The Davidsonian

An Ode to Ukraine: Kyiv City Ballet’s “Tribute to Peace”

Performers gather around a central dancer with their arms raised
Vsevolod Maievskyi and the corps de ballet in Kyiv City Ballet’s first piece, “Thoughts”. Photo credit Chris Record

Emily Smith ’26 (She/Her)

On Sunday, September 18, the Kyiv City Ballet performed their program Tribute to Peace as part of the C. Shaw and Nancy K. Smith Artist Series. The Kyiv City Ballet unknowingly took one of the last flights out of the Ukraine before Russia’s invasion in February to begin their long planned tour in Paris, and have been living away from home ever since. From France, they have been able to choreograph this mixed style program. 

The program began with a more contemporary piece titled “Thoughts,” in which the audience follows a young man as he tries to recapture the past and learn the importance of thought and acceptance. The piece begins with ominous whispering voices, rather than music, immediately putting the audience on edge and creating a sense of uneasiness as the main character rushes through his thoughts and uses them only for his advantage. A woman eventually enters the stage, representing his original thought that he can no longer reach. The dance follows the young man in his journey to the important thought, but they are constantly separated by external forces, often when they are just about to reach each other. The piece “Thoughts” asks the questions of “What does a human thought mean to you?” and “How much do you devalue them and let them pass you by without further examination?” The young man did not value his original thought, and once he realizes the importance of it, it is too late. The music throughout the piece varied from thunderous and energetic, to a deep silence, and the whispering voices throughout the piece highlighted the inner conflict within the main character. The ensemble of dancers were all costumed identically, wearing a neutral tone, allowing the audience to see them as one, while the young man and woman wore white to emphasize their presence. 

The next piece performed by the Kyiv City Ballet was the titular piece, “Tribute to Peace.” This program, which was more traditional ballet in style, followed multiple young couples whose lives were intertwined with one another. The piece aimed to take a step back from the darkness and troubles of the world, and show us what could be if we strove for peace and tranquility with each other. The couples in this ballet ranged from two people meeting for the first time to a couple planning on getting married. These relationships varied between characters of both similar and different classes, as well as of the same or different gender. As showcased by the lively music and intricate costumes, this piece was a celebration of love, and the simplicity of the dance itself lended to the storytelling being conveyed by the performers. The audience became invested in the romance between each of the characters, and the uncertainty surrounding whether the couples would obtain their happy ending kept us engaged until the end. We wanted the characters to reach their happy ending, and we cheered for them when they found their love. This piece was definitely a crowd favorite in that we could empathize with the characters, as well as forget about the troubles of the world and just focus on joy and celebration for a little while. 

The final piece performed by the Kyiv City Ballet was a short piece entitled “Men of Kyiv,” which was a drastic contrast in style from the rest of the program. The men of the ballet performed traditional Ukrainian folk dance, which included extremely difficult movements, such as high jumps and leaps, and quite unbelievable athleticism. Each wearing either yellow or blue, the dancers “competed” against each other until they ultimately decided to unite in friendship, further emphasizing the desire for peace. As far as showstoppers go, this one definitely excited the audience while the dancers entranced us with their feats of strength and control. Performed to traditional Ukrainian folk music, this finale was incredibly joyful and entertaining, and certainly something I believe everyone in the audience will remember for a long time.

This program dedicated to peace is in direct contrast to the real world situation that Ukraine is facing today. The context of the invasion of Ukraine changes the tone of the pieces in that it forces the audience to see how the dancer’s lives have been affected, and how this is not only dance as an art form but also an escape from a harsh reality. In “Tribute to Peace,” the audience is shown what these dancer’s lives could have been like if not for the invasion, and enlightens them to the perspective of the desire for peace and a return to the normalcy of the past. So even though it is a piece portraying love and joy, it also conveys a sense of sadness for what is lost. Even in the pieces not directly responding to the invasion of Ukraine, the desire for understanding and a sense of home is expressed through the themes of friendship and encouragement, as well as a sense of safety and belonging between the dancers. 

Emily Smith ‘26 (She/Her) is a biology/psychology major from Raleigh, NC. She can be reached for comment at

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