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Ukrainians find place to dance in Northwest Arkansas

Ballet dancers plying skills for audience far from home by Laurinda Joenks | April 22, 2022 at 7:18 a.m.
Tsembenhoi Arno-Stin, From Left and Rodina Anastasia, ballet dancers from the Ukarine, practice Thursday with freelance dancers working with the Ozark Ballet Theatre in Bentonville.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)

BENTONVILLE -- Arno-Stin Tsembenhoi and Anastasia Rodina are more than 5,000 miles from their homes in Ukraine.

Professional ballet dancers, they don't have jobs.

Family members remain in their home country "with bombs still coming," Tsembenhoi said Thursday. They aren't worried. They found refuge in Northwest Arkansas, they said.

And they passionately expressed belief Ukraine will survive.

Tsembenhoi, 29, and Rodina, 28, were part of RBTheatre's touring performance of "Swan Lake." Their show closed April 9 in San Diego.

The couple couldn't go home when it ended because Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The war continues today.

Ozark Ballet Theater and its owners, David Sanders and Katie Stasse, stepped in to help. They found housing at Mount Sequoyah Center in Fayetteville. They also will provide workouts and a performance.

Tsembenhoi and Rodina will present a piece from the Scheherazade ballet when Ozark Ballet presents "The Firebird" on May 7-8 at the Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, Stasse said.

Stasse trained for five years in Orlando, Fla., with the Fedotov family from the Ukrainian National Theater, she said. Both she and husband, Sanders, have danced many times with Ukrainian artists, she said.

"Without my teachers, Ozark Ballet Theater would simply not exist," Stasse said.

Those teachers asked Stasse if she could help the stranded dancers.

Tsembenhoi said he's sad -- and mad -- about the situation in Ukraine. He's proud of his relatives who stayed in Ukraine to fight for their rights and freedoms.

Most of their female family members have left the country -- Rodina's to Poland, Tsembenhoi's to Germany. But the men stayed, as well as Tsembenhoi's grandparents.

Tsembenhoi and Rodina have been in contact with family members inside and outside the country. They know all are safe now.

The Ukrainians joined the Ozark company's dancers on the floor Thursday, powerfully leaping and spinning as they followed the directions Stasse called.

Sanders explained that ballet terms are French, so the Ukrainian dancers could keep up with the Americans and vice versa.

Ballet traces its origins to the Italian Renaissance, when it was developed as a court entertainment, reads the website of the Russian School of Ballet in Johannesburg, South Africa. Peter the Great brought ballet to Russia, after seeing it performed in France, the website continues.

Peter began replacing traditional Russian folk dances with ballet as part of his westernized cultural revolution. He saw ballet as a way to elevate Russia's standing in the European community, by improving its cultural contribution.

Dancers in the United States prefer a contemporary form of ballet, while Russian ballet is more classical, Tsembenhoi explained.

"In Russia, ballet is classical, traditional, a part of the heart and soul," Rodina said with Tsembenhoi translating. "It's all about the legs here."

"But we have danced with some good dancers here," Tsembenhoi said.

Stasse is worried about the couple getting jobs because they need jobs dancing. They need temporary protected status before they can work.

"Dancers have to dance," she said. "They've done it all their life."

Sanders said the dancers -- like professional athletes -- must train for at least three hours a day to stay in shape, which might not match a traditional work schedule.

He added most theater seasons end with spring, so dancing jobs are scarce.

"This summer, they need to support themselves and stay in shape to be ready to dance when the next season starts in September," Sanders said.

He started a Go Fund Me page for the dancers last month.

"We are not going to live without a job because we are professionals," Tsembenhoi said. "I am 100% sure there is a place for our skills."

He mentioned the couple will dance for a movie and commercials this summer.

Rodina seemed to falter at the suggestion she wouldn't dance. She said the couple should spend their time in the United States learning something new.

Tsembenhoi spoke of wanting to try some more contemporary forms of dance, like Latin, Salsa and Hip Hop. He has been dancing professionally for 15 years.

His plan was to return to Kyiv and open a business before he turned 30. He is thinking of an Italian restaurant.

"I've got dreams and plans to open a restaurant and feed people good food," he said.

Tsembenhoi said Kyiv again will become a place to return with many opportunities and government support of businesses.

Tsembenhoi was born in 1992, and Rodina in 1994. The Soviet Union fell in 1992.

Rodina, through Tsembenhoi, said the Ukraine she left was absolutely amazing, with beautiful people leading happy lives.

Tsembenhoi spoke of concerts, art, ballet and music festivals.

Rodina is from Zaporizhzhia, an industrial city in southeastern Ukraine, Tsembenhoi explained.

Tsembenhoi said he has no fears for his family nor his country.

"We are fighting on the right side," he said. "We will never be under Russia. No way it's going to happen. We are going to win this war any way."

Rodina said she was upset by the reports about the propaganda Russians were putting out and those who didn't want to hear the other side. She said she is getting her information from Ukrainian television, their families, fighters and volunteers.

"It's very hard to predict," she said of the outlook for Ukraine. "I can't imagine this happened. I absolutely believe in the Ukrainian people who stayed to fight.

"Even those who left the country are of one nation," she continued through Tsembenhoi. "They will not give up their home country. They help each other as much as they can."

  photo  Rodina Anastasia, and Tsembenhoi Arno-Stin, background, ballet dancers from the Ukarine, practice Thursday with freelance dancer working with the Ozark Ballet Theatre in Bentonville.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
 
 
  photo  Tsembenhoi Arno-Stin, From Left and Rodina Anastasia, ballet dancers from the Ukarine, practice Thursday with freelance dancers working with the Ozark Ballet Theatre in Bentonville.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
 
 
  photo  Tsembenhoi Arno-Stin, From Left and Rodina Anastasia, ballet dancers from the Ukarine, practice Thursday with Freelance Dancer working with the Ozark Ballet Theatre in Bentonville.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
 
 
  photo  Tsembenhoi Arno-Stin, right and Rodina Anastasia, ballet dancers from the Ukarine, talk to a reporter Thursday after practicing with freelance dancers working with the Ozark Ballet Theatre in Bentonville.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)

Print Headline: Ukrainians find place to dance in Northwest Arkansas

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