State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine’s Annual North American Tour Feels Different This Year

December 9, 2022

State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, founded in 2018 and hosted by Classical Arts in Brooklyn, New York, is a 55-member troupe of Ukrainian dancers who come together each year to perform in North America. In what has become an annual tradition, the company has toured its productions of The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and other classics throughout the U.S. and Canada since its founding. But this year, things are different. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, eyes have turned toward the Eastern European nation and its displaced people, including its dancers. For SBTU, that meant a sudden increase in attention—not only from U.S. audiences, but also from local ballet students who are invited to join the company onstage each year.

Former ballroom dancer Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikova heads SBTU student engagement alongside her husband, Artem Yachmennikoff, a former San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet principal, Mariinsky Ballet soloist and Bolshoi Ballet first soloist. In addition to their positions as co-artistic directors of the company, they also own and direct their own studio, We Dance Academy, in Melbourne, Florida and Viera, Florida. The two got involved with Classical Arts in 2018 with the creation of the organization’s “We Dance” program, which facilitates the local student involvement with SBTU at each touring location. And while the program has always experienced consistent participation, Vaganova-Yachmennikova was blown away by the number of auditioning students for the 2022–23 season.

Six female dancers, a mix of professionals from State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine and local New Jersey students, pose onstage in the "Sleeping Beauty" Prologue fairy scene. They wear bright colored tutus in warm hues, pink tights and pointe shoes, fairy wings and tiaras. Other dancers in pink tutus pose behind them in the background.
State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine in Sleeping Beauty with local ballet students. Photo by Joe Marino, courtesy NJPAC.

“The auditions are open for the entire community,” she says, explaining that she and Yachmennikoff work with local host studios to audition area dancers ages 3 and up, including adult ballet students. “At New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), we have a school that last year got 20 dancers to participate, and this year there are 45. There are over 100 total dancers onstage!”

Vaganova-Yachmennikova (who traces her ancestry back to the legendary Agrippina Vaganova) notes the significance of the performance opportunities for young dancers in the U.S. “It’s a unique cultural exchange; they get a global experience and appreciation for working with artists from different backgrounds,” she says, emphasizing that observing how professionals work onstage and performing alongside them is critical for students who want to dance professionally themselves. And for the theaters involved, the company’s annual tours have generated a strong connection over the years. NJPAC executive vice president and executive producer David Rodriguez notes that the Center’s relationship with SBTU goes back several years; the company’s performances, he says, “creates an opportunity to view a single seminal work in a variety of cultural contexts not available elsewhere.”

Vaganova-Yachmennikova explains that this year’s tour is particularly special to SBTU and is thrilled that several theaters have sold out their performances through February. “Dancers already have a very short artistic life,” she says. “Our priority has to be the human life. So the fact that they are able to continue to do their job is priceless given the surrounding circumstances.” Hundreds of people have also shown their support through donations on the Classical Arts website, which goes toward funding SBTU productions and helping the displaced artists and their families.

Artem Yachmennikoff, Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikova, members of State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine and local ballet students clap onstage during bows after the SBToU performance of "Sleeping Beauty." Artem wears a black tuxedo, Ekaterina wears a long red dress, and the dancers are in costume as the audience applauds in the foreground.
Artem Yachmennikoff, Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikova, members of State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine and local ballet students. Photo by Joe Marino, courtesy NJPAC.

But the company’s success this year was not met without difficulty. The task of covertly rehearsing in Ukraine and transporting company members, sets and costumes out of the country was not an easy one—and it was risky. “These dancers were forced to leave their homes, and even their families,” says Vaganova-Yachmennikova, “and we have to keep our location in Ukraine undisclosed. But now in the U.S., they’re able to live in some sort of normality; they don’t have to wake up to the sound of sirens.”

The main thing she wishes for North American audiences? To come and see the dancers live. “We are so very appreciative and excited to bring the holiday spirit to these audiences. And we’re hopeful that with love and faith, these crazy times will end soon.”

State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine Tour Locations


  • Birmingham: Alabama Theatre—Sleeping Beauty (January 12, 2023)
  • Montgomery: Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts—Swan Lake (January 13)


  • Fort Pierce: Sunrise Theatre—Swan Lake (December 28, 2022)
  • Melbourne: Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts—Sleeping Beauty (December 30)
  • Coral Springs: Coral Springs Center for the Arts—Swan Lake (January 1)
  • Cutler Bay: Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center—Swan Lake (January 3)
  • Palm Coast: Flagler Auditorium—Sleeping Beauty (January 4)
  • Lakeland: Polk Theatre—Swan Lake (January 5)
  • Saint Petersburg: The Mahaffey Theater—Sleeping Beauty (January 6)
  • Orlando: Steinmetz Hall—Sleeping Beauty (January 7)
  • Jacksonville: Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts—Sleeping Beauty (January 8)


  • Athens: The Classic Center—The Nutcracker (December 22–23)
  • Macon: The Grand Opera House—Swan Lake (January 9)
  • Savannah: Johnny Mercer Theatre—Sleeping Beauty (January 10)
  • Augusta: Imperial Theatre—Sleeping Beauty (January 14)


  • Saginaw: The Temple Theatre—Sleeping Beauty (November 27)

New Jersey

  • Newark: New Jersey Performing Arts Center—The Nutcracker (December 18), Sleeping Beauty (January 15)
  • Trenton: Patriots Theater at the War Memorial—Sleeping Beauty (December 15)

New York

  • Buffalo: Shea’s Performing Arts Center—Swan Lake (December 10)
  • Brooklyn: Brooklyn College (Walt Whitman Theatre)—The Nutcracker (December 16)
  • Rochester: RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre—Sleeping Beauty (December 17)

South Carolina

  • Florence: Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center—Sleeping Beauty (December 21)


  • Norfolk: Harrison Opera House—Sleeping Beauty (December 20)


  • Brampton: The Rose—Sleeping Beauty (December 5)
  • Kitchener: Centre In The Square—Swan Lake (December 6)
  • Kingston: Kingston Grand Theatre—The Nutcracker (December 7–8)
  • Brockville: Brockville Arts Centre—The Nutcracker (December 9)