Reunited in Dance: Xander Parish Brings Together Dancers Displaced by War

November 7, 2022

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, dancers around the world have held dozens of benefit performances for the Ukrainian people. Now Xander Parish, who left Russia and his principal position at the Mariinsky Ballet after the invasion (he is currently dancing with the Norwegian National Ballet), is doing something for the displaced dancers—getting them back on the stage.

In association with the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, and with the support of the Henry T. and Elizabeth Segerstrom Charitable Foundation, as well as Elizabeth Segerstrom, a foundation board member whose family fled the Soviet regime during World War II, Parish will present Reunited in Dance, a one-night-only performance in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The event will feature an all-star cast of nearly 20 dancers with ties to Ukraine and Russia, including Christine Shevchenko, Jacopo Tissi, Joy Womack, David Motta Soares and Parish himself. On Saturday, November 12, they’ll perform an array of gala favorites, including classical excerpts from Le Corsaire, La Bayadère, Paquita, Raymonda and Don Quixote, as well as Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux and a world premiere choreographed by Parish set to Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album. Due to overwhelming demand for tickets, the performance will also be simulcast for free on the Segerstrom Center’s Julianne and George Argyros Plaza. Over email, Parish told Pointe about how Reunited in Dance came together.

Veronika Selivanova, dressed in a feathery white tutu, headpiece, pink tights and pointe shoes, poses dramatically onstage, like a "dying swan." She uses her right leg, folded under her, for support as she extends her left leg behind her and reaches her arms up behind her like wings.
Veronika Selivanova in “The Dying Swan.” Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

A show like this is a massive undertaking. How long did it take to put together?

This project has felt like a full-time job on top of my work as a dancer, but it’s been worth every second! I’ve been working on this intensely since July. The program has been edited multiple times due to dancers not receiving their visas in time or others having injuries, or still others having sudden commitments at their home companies.

The community came together in a big way, from philanthropist Elizabeth Segerstrom to the dancers, to make this happen.

Elizabeth Segerstrom has been incredible in her kindness and empathy for our collective situations. Our desire to dance together again despite being dispersed across the globe (the dancers are flying in from all over the place) touched her heart, and she has made it possible for this idea to become a reality.

Joy Womack wears a bright red tutu with black lace embellishment, pink tights and pointe shoes as she arabesques energetically onstage. She performs the role of Kitri in "Don Quixote."
Joy Womack in Don Quixote. Photo by Karolina, courtesy The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

What was your motivation for doing the show?

One of my initial reasons for wanting to put this together was to give the dancers the chance to perform and earn money, and to remind them of why we are training and what we are always striving towards: the magic of being onstage. The idea came when many still hadn’t been reemployed. Some of the younger members of our group hadn’t danced onstage since leaving their jobs behind in Russia until we did our first rehearsal in October.

Some of the dancers had to get out of Russia or Ukraine quickly and under difficult circumstances, such as Adrian Blake Mitchell and Andrea Laššáková, who were dancing with the Mikhailovsky Ballet. After their flight out was canceled, they took a taxi to the border of Estonia and crossed over on foot. What was your escape like?

Yes, flights were canceled to Europe very suddenly, so the only practical way out was by road. I took a bus to the Estonian border a day or two after Adrian and Andrea. We were all in touch with each other throughout that time. It was stressful because things were escalating quickly and rumors that martial law was to be introduced imminently and the borders to be closed were circulating quickly. That didn’t happen, but we weren’t prepared to hang around and find out.

Andrea Laššáková and Adrian Blake Mitchell wear white unitards in front of a galaxy-like backdrop onstage. Lassakova stands in front of Black Mitchell and they mirror each other, one leg held a la seconde, opposite hands holding each others' above their heads and behind Lassakova's back.
Andrea Laššáková and Adrian Blake Mitchell in After the Rain. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy The Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Tell me about the rep you’ve chosen.

Primarily, I wanted to give the dancers the chance to perform their favorite pieces or something that they maybe hadn’t danced but really wanted to. However, there is one that was a surprise. The producer came to me with news that a famous Russian pianist who’d also left Russia wanted to join our team, and he was extremely keen, in fact determined, to play Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album. The producer wanted us to dance to this music, but of course we couldn’t simply improvise! I decided to take the challenge head-on and create something myself. As I thought hard about what to do with this music, it dawned on me that the piano numbers closely resembled a ballet class, so I set about creating a ballet class which the dancers can perform together side by side. There is some humor and some little stories thrown in here and there.

What do you want the artists and the audience to get out of this performance?

I want the artists to be encouraged and know that even though we’ve all left a lot behind, there is a future and hope, and my hope is that this will grow into bigger things which we can all be part of. I’m grateful to all who’ve bought tickets—I’m told we’ve pretty much sold out—so I simply want our audience to enjoy themselves and partake of the atmosphere of positivity and joy, which we dancers will certainly be feeling as we dance together again!