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Ballet in Ukraine: A Site of Tension Between Imperialism and Nationalism


My dissertation project focuses on the structure and particularities of classical ballet in Ukraine, where this art form emerged as a contested space between Russian cultural imperialism and Ukrainian national revival. In my study, I analyze both acceptance of and resistance to imperial and national ideologies on and off the ballet stage, as Ukrainian ballet transitions from an element of Soviet high culture to an important practice, forging an independent national identity. I explore Ukrainian state ballet as a platform for cultural dialogue and as a space for navigating and examining historical and contemporary influences of imperial and national frameworks.

My dissertation contains four chapters. The first chapter provides a historical overview of the ballet development in Kyiv, Ukraine since the beginning of the 20th century, when the Eastern and Central of Ukraine fell under the rule of Russian Empire. The second chapter is based on my ethnographic study of the ballet community of the Kyiv State Ballet School, an institution closely affiliated with the National Opera of Ukraine. In the third chapter I investigate a previously unexplored collection of nation-themed librettos, written in the 1930s, when Russian imperialism frameworks were largely re-established by the Soviet state. In the fourth and final chapter, I explore the system of ballet archivization and examine Soviet personnel files of Ukrainian ballet artists and the construction of the nationality category.

To date, few studies focused on how geopolitical tensions influence cultural institutions, defining them as sites of conflict between imperialism and nationalism. My study seeks to provide insight into the attempts of Ukrainian ballet artists to establish, define, and historicize Ukrainian national ballet, countering persistent neo-imperial efforts define all classical ballet in Ukraine as inherently Russian. In my work I attempt to de-center ballet history’s accepted focus on Russian ballet and Soviet Studies’ attention to Moscow-based archives and Russian-language literary sources. In this, my project connects Critical Dance Studies, Soviet History and Performance Studies to trouble disciplinary boundaries while offering multi-faceted insight into the cultural frameworks of imperialism and nationalism.

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