“When I Hear a Missile, I Fear For The Theater”

A week ago she heard the noise caused by a cruise missile launched by Russia against a refinery in Odessa but, when asked if she is afraid, the Ukrainian historical dancer Svetlana Antipova does not think of herself, but of the place she has built her story: “I fear for the Theater”.

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His hands hold a green folder filled with photos and newspaper clippings. In a large empty room of her dance studio, covered with mirrors and ballet bars, Antipova, 76, who was the prima ballerina of the Odessa Ballet decades ago, shows the images of her students with greater passion than her own. . She stops at one of them with sorrow: “Now she has had to go to Germany. She was very professional, maybe I have lost my star… ”.

The Ukrainian dancer, a dance reference in Odessa, recounts the fate of many of her students and is still speculating about how she would reorganize the pending shows, on which her disciples had worked so hard and which are paralyzed by the war. Now, the dancers from her school, whose repertoire is part of the programming of the city’s symbolic theater, are scattered around different parts of Europe.

Red hair and colorful clothes, Antipova has a “special” character, according to her son. Among the photos that she shows, she does not include the one of her granddaughter Margarita, nine years old, who from Moldova follows the online ballet classes taught by her grandmother, as published by elDiario.es. “She has very good conditions and a very good memory, but she still has to stretch her feet a little more,” details the dancer. From Costiesi, a town near the Moldovan capital where she fled with her mother and her brother, the little girl described Svetlana as two people in one: the grandmother and the teacher.

And now the teacher speaks, not the grandmother. Because when the grandmother begins to speak, she breaks the distance transmitted in the analysis of Margarita’s movements, the one that prevents her from inserting a photo of her granddaughter in her green folder. When Grandma speaks, her gaze sizzles from her, Antipova smiles, and she hugs herself. “I miss my grandchildren so much. The other day Margot was sick, and I told them: bring them here with me”, says the artist, who refuses to leave Odessa. Not for now.

“I could go to so many countries, I have dancer friends everywhere, but I don’t want to leave,” he says. His sons and daughter insisted that he do it, but they have already given up. Antipova wants to be close to them. One of them is part of the Territorial Defense Guard and fears that something will happen, but she also stays for herself. She prefers to stay in her house, in Odessa, with her cats and her dogs, and not far from the Theater.

“I am afraid that something may happen to the theater. It’s so beautiful that if something happens to it… I’m scared. When that sound sounds from the sky, I think of the theater”, repeats the dancer. The historic building, the Odessa Opera House, has been fortified for more than a month with barricades made up of sandbags, spikes and hedgehogs to prevent a possible ground attack by Russian troops. “Seeing him like this is very painful for everyone.”

He bursts out laughing when he realizes that he is talking more about his fear of the destruction of the symbolic building than about his own safety. Antimova shrugs and nods, while her son smirks. He knows her: “I lived in that theater… I left my children ‘abandoned’ by the theater”, he says. They laugh again.

She is the director of the Svetlana Antipova Dance Studio, whose works are performed at the Odessa Theater, in a professional children’s show that she speaks proudly about. The war has changed everything. “Most of my students have gone to different countries, some are already dancing there. I know of some that have already started working abroad and I wonder if they will come back here… We have incredible shows here, but a team is a team together. If they all leave and don’t come back, it’s hard to fix everything and organize everything, ”she says worried. “I hope everything will pass soon, but we don’t know what’s in a person’s head,” she says, referring to Putin. Even if he finishes, I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”

The woman remembers her last face-to-face ballet class. On February 23. Then there was already talk of the possibility of war, but she did not believe it. “We were here,” she says, pointing to the empty hall of mirrors. “We were preparing the Nutcracker. I just remember that it was normal. We did not think about the war, only about dancing”. Now, the conflict has gone through everything.

Although she tries to give several online classes to her students, especially the younger ones to avoid their disconnection with dance, she angrily tells of the great differences that exist with face-to-face classes, since the older dancers do not have enough space and the camera sometimes prevents correcting all errors, although she strives to detect them. They are the same classes that her granddaughter Margot follows from a resort converted into a refugee reception center in a town in Moldova.

She could resume lessons with those students who are still in Odessa, but she prefers to avoid it for now for the safety of her students: “What if something happens? If there is a siren or bombardment, what should be done? Let’s wait a bit.”

There is a fear that does affect him. The fear of stopping. How it can affect you to stop working suddenly at your age. “She worked until night, every day. I’m used to working every day, but today I can’t do anything. That is very bad for me and I don’t know how I am going to continue, because I am not a young person who can adapt… Understanding that I am not working, without knowing how long it can last, is being very difficult”. The war has robbed him of more than a month of the work he loves.

More than ever, these weeks he likes to hold on to his memories. The classes given to her students, but also her years of learning. Antiova evidences her nostalgia for the ballet classes of yesteryear, the discipline that she tries to impose on her classes. Those years in which she danced in the best theaters in the world. “She had a very interesting life,” adds the dancer, as she holds up a newspaper clipping from the year she left the stage to go into teaching.

Antiova moves with agility, despite the injury she has had in one of her knees for two years. She points to the facilities that she rents for her dance classes as if we were in her house. The receptionist works a couple of days a week since the start of the war. “A lot of work”, she ironizes. She laughs and looks wistfully at the empty facilities that only a month and a half ago filled her students with life and the music of a piano that has not been played since February 24.



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