Ballet Dancers Who Came to LA After Fleeing Russia’s War Tell Their Story

Los Angeles spoke with three top international ballet dancers who fled Russia’s war on Ukraine and are now performing right in Santa Monica

Adrian Blake Mitchell and Andrea Lassakova moved to Russia seven years ago to pursue every ballet dancer’s dream: performing with the Mikhailovsky Ballet Company in St. Petersburg. But in early 2022, the couple decided they were ready to leave the country to further pursue their dancing careers elsewhere. However, once the war broke out in March, Mitchell and Lassakova decided to move as soon as possible.

Mitchell and Lassakova (courtesy Ira Yakovleva)

“We expedited the process when the invasion started and then when our flight tickets were canceled, that’s when we became concerned and actually just in two days, packed and sold things,” Mitchell told Los Angeles.

After the two cleared out their apartment, they planned to take a train to Helsinki. However, only Russian, Polish, and Finnish people were allowed on board. Since Mitchell is from The U.S. and Lassakova is Slovakian, they needed a plan B.

With their dog, Beau, in tow, the two hopped in a taxi that drove them to the border between Russia and Estonia. They were not allowed to cross the border by car, so the two dancers and their pet walked across “The Bridge of Friendship,” leaving behind the country they had come to love.

Mitchell, Lassakova, and Beau after crossing into Estonia on March 1 (via Adrian Blake Mitchell)

“[We felt] free and happy,” Lassakova said. “I felt like it was our last chance, and it was scary because we were really wanting to get out.”

American Ballerina Joy Womack also fled to the United States when the war broke out. During her time in Russia, she danced with The Bolshoi Ballet, The Kremlin Ballet Theater in Moscow, and Astrakhan Opéra and Ballet. In March, she was in Poland working on a biopic about her life when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. She could not go back to Russia to get her things, so she had to “leave [her] whole life there,” Womack told Los Angeles.

Joy Womack (courtesy of Stephanie Blair)

“The feeling of being valued [as a ballerina] exists there, and that doesn’t necessarily exist here, so I am certainly going to miss it,” she said. “It’s very sad because I feel like I didn’t get to say goodbye or close that chapter.”

Now all three dancers are working as guest artists for The Westside School of Ballet here in Santa Monica. Womack and Mitchell are alumni there, and Womack feels grateful to be dancing in a familiar place during this tumultuous time.

“We are so happy to be here at Westside because Westside is our alma mater and also home,” she said. 

Their upcoming performance, A Petite Soirée, is on May 7 at Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center. The ballet will feature themes of springtime and reawakening, representing the return of the arts after the pandemic. Tickets can be purchased here

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