It is on a cold November morning that we communicate – by Zoom – with the dancer and choreographer Natalia Matsak. Despite the war between Ukraine and Russia, the young woman is in Kyiv, like the other dancers in the company. This is the first question we ask him. Have you ever thought about leaving your country?

“Never,” Natalia Matsak answers us without hesitation. It’s important for us to stay here. It’s our culture that we defend, the 41-year-old artist tells us. It’s all very political, of course, but it’s our home, even if it’s heavy to bear, even if it’s difficult…”

Natalia Matsak is taking a break. “It’s certain that we can’t sleep normally here. With the sound of sirens, we never know what will fall on our heads, if there is a drone or if we will run out of electricity. We are at war, this is our life now. It’s not normal, but we adapt. »

His colleague Olga Kifyak, who is one of 27 dancers from the company taking part in this tour, has lost her father and brother since the start of the war. She lights two small lanterns in her dressing room before each performance. She’s not the only one. Each member of the troupe bears the traces of this conflict which has dragged on for almost two years.

Natalia Matsak has an aunt who lives in Mariupol in extremely difficult conditions. “We get news as best we can, but it’s hard, because she can’t leave. I have family elsewhere in Ukraine as well, there is a lot of uncertainty. »

Between now and next January, the Ukrainian National Ballet of the Taras Shevchenko National Opera will travel to Italy and Japan. The Canadian tour will follow after the holidays. But between each series of performances, the dancers return home to Kyiv to their loved ones.

First dancer of the National Ballet of Ukraine, Natalia Matsak was trained by Ukrainian and Russian dancers and choreographers. She danced in the famous Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky theaters in Saint Petersburg and at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and worked with many Russian artists, such as Boris Eifman. Has she kept in touch with any of them?

You guessed it, this tour is eminently political. It’s even part of a national fundraising campaign to support aid organizations, including the Olena-Zelenska Foundation, named after the Ukrainian president’s wife. These organizations come to the aid of the population in order to provide medical and humanitarian aid. The goal of the Canadian tour is to raise $5 million.

The troupe will first present extracts of traditional Ukrainian dances to music by Ukrainian composers. “It’s a bit folkloric, but we wanted to integrate this aspect into our show because it’s part of our culture,” she tells us. Next, the company will present excerpts from three classic ballets: Le Corsaire, Giselle and Don Quixote.

“It’s a fairly technical classical dance program,” says Natalia Matsak, who is also part of the cast. This is the first time we have done such a long tour in Canada, even though we have already been here three times before, so we want to show the full extent of the talent of our dancers through the program we have chosen. »