Brazilian dancer David Motta, then a leading soloist at the renowned Bolshoi ballet, knew he had to leave the country where he had spent half his life the day Russia invaded Ukraine.
It was a “obvious” decision, he said, because his heart went out to the people of Ukraine, but it was “the hardest decision of my life.”
The gracefully lanky 25-year-old had lived in Russia for the previous 13 years. He was taken in as a boy by the Bolshoi Academy and developed into an international star.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” Motta said as he wiped sweat from his brow after a recent rehearsal in Rio de Janeiro.
“I couldn’t sleep for several days. I had no idea where to go or how to begin again.”
Fearing that the borders would be closed, he devised a “escape strategy,” flying to Istanbul, Milan, and finally Brazil.
Motta will say a symbolic farewell to Moscow with a limited run of “Swan Lake,” the iconic Tchaikovsky ballet that premiered at the Bolshoi in 1877.
Motta’s homecoming will be brief: the role of Prince Siegfried will be performed in Rio for only three nights beginning Saturday.
Then he’ll move to Berlin to begin a new contract with the Staatsballett.
– ‘Caught in the middle’ –
Motta was one of the first foreigners to announce his departure from the Bolshoi.
He told AFP after an intense dress rehearsal at Rio’s Municipal Theater, still dressed in his white tights and gold-embroidered top, that all of the company’s expatriate dancers had left the country.
He expressed regret that artists were “caught in the crossfire” of the Ukraine conflict, when their role should have been to “bring cultures and countries together.”
Russian artists are particularly suffering as a result of a series of international boycotts, he claims.
“Unfortunately, all Russians are being held accountable for the actions of one person,” he said, referring to President Vladimir Putin.
However, he stated that he will “never criticise” Russia.
“I grew up in that area. It taught me a lot. It will always have a special place in my heart.”
Motta was born in the coastal city of Cabo Frio, north of Rio de Janeiro.
He developed an interest in ballet at a young age and received a scholarship from the Brazilian government to study at the Bolshoi Academy.
He left the idyllic beaches of Brazil at the age of 12 for snowy Moscow, where he arrived knowing no Russian.
“I was completely alone. I recall every detail vividly. Everything was white because it was winter “He spoke wistfully.He described the academy as his “second family.”
He graduated in 2015, winning first place in the All-Russian Young Dancers Competition that year, and quickly rose through the Bolshoi ranks to the position of leading soloist, one step below principal dancer.
‘The air I breathe.’
“Ballet means the world to me. The air that I breathe. Every night I go to bed and wake up thinking about ballet “He stated.
His brief appearance in Rio will be “priceless,” he says, because he will be performing for his parents.
“After all of their hard work to get me to the Bolshoi, my family will get to see me dance,” he said.
Motta will then relocate to Berlin later this month.
He has never been to the city and speaks no German.
But that’s just a minor detail for a dancer who left home at the age of 12 to pursue a distant dream in a country on the other side of the world.
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