Moscow - AFP
A dozen top ballet stars including Svetlana Zakharova and Natalia Osipova put up a dazzling performance Sunday at a keenly awaited but politically sensitive gala at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre in support of young dancers in war-torn Ukraine.
During the benefit organised by The Bolshoi's Ukrainian-born prima ballerina Zakharova, dancers from top international companies performed highlights from a range of ballets.
All proceeds from the sold-out concert will go towards the Kiev State Ballet School in Ukraine where organisers say young dancers are trained in poor conditions.
The gala at the iconic theatre located a stone's throw from the Kremlin took place against the backdrop of raging tensions between Russia and Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have battled government forces since April.
"It was a full house, it was a huge success," the producer of the concert, Yuri Baranov, told AFP, referring to rapturous applause and stamping of feet.
Among those who travelled to Moscow to support the cause was Osipova, one of the world's most sought-after ballerinas.
"How can one refuse? I recall how terrible it was to enter a dance hall in winter and shiver," Osipova, the former Bolshoi star who joined Britain's Royal Ballet in 2013, said ahead of the event.
Zakharova and Baranov -- both of whom are Kiev-trained -- hope that proceeds from the gala dubbed "Ballet Without Borders" will help renovate their alma mater.
"It's necessary to help children, no matter what country they live in," Zakharova told AFP.
She said she got the idea for the concert during her visit to Kiev last year.
"The idea was born before the situation became complicated. There was no way back -- these are kids."
Baranov, a Kiev-born soloist at the Bolshoi, said the ballet school in Kiev had largely been neglected for the past 30 years and needed a new roof and windows.
"They work in frigid temperatures," he said, referring to young dancers.
Baranov said the organisers had hoped to raise some $300,000.
Even though the tickets were all snapped up -- including three VIP packages ranging between 200,000 and 600,000 rubles ($3,775 and $11,000), the organisers expect to end up with less than half of their target because the ruble has depreciated considerably in recent weeks.
- Sensitive project -
In an apparent sign of the sensitivity of the project, the organisers have been unable to find a sponsor, Baranov said.
Dancers have also distanced themselves from politics.
"This is an initiative of the artists and not the government or the management," Baranov said.
But political overtones were hard to miss.
Baranov said one of the pieces -- "Digital Love" by Patrick de Bana -- was created in memory of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 people on board in March.
The duet by Zakharova and de Bana -- first performed in China -- is "about distance, distant love," the choreographer was quoted as saying in The Shanghai Daily last summer.
"It’s about love that goes through this electronic world, and trying to send from one side of the world to the other emotions, feelings and connections."
The inclusion of the piece has no political implications, and no relation to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 with 298 people on board over rebel-held Ukraine in July, Baranov said.
- 'Ukrainians conquering world' -
In the Ukrainian capital, Nobuhiro Terada, the Japanese-born artistic director of the Kiev Ballet School, said he was grateful to Zakharova for the event but noted that despite the conditions his school provided world-class training.
"'Ukrainians' are conquering the world," he said, referring to dancers who trained in Kiev.
He expressed regret that some of the best dancers chose to leave the country, taking their talent abroad. "This is sad and bad."
Leonid Sarafanov, a principal dancer with the Mikhailovsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, and Alina Cojocaru, the Romanian-born star of the English National Ballet -- who both trained in Kiev -- took part in the gala.