Renowned Ukrainian ballet dancer who fled war stars in Dallas-Fort Worth 'Nutcracker'
On February 24, 2022, Ukrainian-born dancer Vsevolod "Seva" Maevsky lay in bed, nursing a back injury at his home in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he was a member of the world-famous Mariinsky Ballet.
The phone rang.
It was a friend and former Mariinsky colleague, calling from Mexico.
“In your country, Ukraine, now is war,” the friend told him.
Seva phoned home to Kyiv.
Russian military forces had invaded the country. Family members wanted to leave.
Seva wanted to help, but it meant saying goodbye to the Mariinsky - his dream ballet company and dance home for the last four years.
“I really had no choice,” he says. “I had to help my family.”
But at 24 - a man of combat age - Seva could not go back to Kyiv, as he would not be allowed to leave once he entered Ukraine.
Instead, with little money, few possessions, and still suffering from debilitating back pain, the dancer journeyed from Saint Petersburg to Turkey to reunite with his mother, brother, two sisters, and a niece fleeing Ukraine.
There, they would try to make a plan for the future - whatever the future should look like.
Ten months later, Seva is sharing his story ahead of his unlikely appearance as a guest principal artist in the Tuzer Ballet’s Nutcracker performances December 17-18 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.
His engagement as the Nutcracker Prince with the respected Tuzer Ballet likely would not have come about had Seva not found himself displaced from both his homeland and his adopted home country - and seeking opportunities to perform where he can.
In a virtual video interview from Seva’s new temporary home of Dresden, Germany, he makes two things clear: 1) He will not complain about his personal situation because many of his countrymen and women have it much worse, and 2) Out of respect for his friends in both Ukraine and Russia, he does not want to discuss politics of what he calls “a stupid war.”
“To be honest, sometimes it’s so hard when I start to think about it because, yeah Ukraine’s my home, but Russia, I have a lot of friends,” he says.
In fact, Seva says, the day he told his Mariinsky director that he would be leaving Saint Petersburg to help his family, he was met not with a “goodbye,” but with a big hug.
“It was difficult because I grew up there and everybody was so kind to me,” he said of the company he’d come of age with since he was 19.
Born in Kyiv, Seva achieved early success as a ballroom dancer, partnered with his sister from the age of 5. It was his mother’s dream for him to dance ballet, so she enrolled him in the Kyiv State Ballet School. Seva went on to win several international awards and competitions, including the prestigious Gold Medal Grand Prix Kyiv (Ukraine) in 2016. He earned a scholarship to study with the Ellison Ballet in New York and then, in 2018, won the Gold Medal at the acclaimed Youth America Grand Prix New York.
Then came the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, one of the biggest and most respected companies in the world (rivaled only by Russia’s famed Bolshoi).
Determined to help
But in the spring of 2022, Seva suddenly found himself in Turkey without work, without income, without the routine of rehearsals and performances with one of the world’s pre-eminent ballet companies.
Determined to help his mother and siblings - who were struggling with employment and finances - he took out a loan with friends, searched for auditions, and reached out to ballet contacts around the world to help him find dance work. Yet his crippling back pain persisted, and he felt his 24-year-old body falling out of shape.
“I had to do something because I had to help my family and I had to just keep going because it's my profession,” he says. “It was hard. I remember I did my second audition and (I was) not in shape… I was disappointed. I was like, okay what happened with my body, I’m losing everything here. It’s really important for dancers, if you want to improve yourself, you just keep going.”
Seva’s first performance after he left Russia ended up being in Orlando, Florida. The Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), which he’d won in 2018, invited him to perform at their gala in April 2022.
“I was so happy to be back on the stage, to be back (in) shape,” Seva says.
Gala performances with companies in Switzerland and Italy followed, and on May 1, he moved to Dresden and started with the Dresden Semperoper Ballet. He proudly paid off his loan in three months. “I’m so thankful to the director and teachers here, that I can keep going,” he says.
Seva is also working with a manager who is focused on helping artists, displaced by war, find opportunities in America. On November 12, Seva performed in a sold-out concert in Los Angeles called “Reunited in Dance,” featuring renowned dancers from around the world impacted by the war in Ukraine.
From Dresden to Dallas
Seva connected with Dallas’ Tuzer Ballet through Lauren Lovette, another guest principal dancer in the Tuzers’ Nutcracker. Lovette is the choreographer in residence at the acclaimed Paul Taylor Dance Company and performs as a guest principal dancer around the world.
Tuzer Ballet co-founder Pat Tuzer says that when a couple of the dancers from prior years’ Nutcrackers became unavailable this year, a friend recommended Lovette, who recommended Seva.
"We're really excited to have someone of his caliber joining us,” Tuzer says. “He's a citizen of the world with the experiences he has already had at such a young age. It will be wonderful."
Pat and Tanju Tuzer’s ballet company has the longest running Nutcracker in Dallas-Fort Worth, back for its 41st holiday season. They describe their Nutcracker as “a blend of global inspiration and local brilliance,” with technically difficult choreography inspired by their international training in Hamburg, Germany - along with more than 400 original costumes and professional sets that transport audiences to a magical wonderland.
Seva will rehearse in New York for several days before flying to Dallas-Fort Worth for the weekend performances. It will be his first time in North Texas.
“I really appreciate it, this invitation to be back on the stage in USA,” Seva says. “I'm really happy and to be honest, USA was from my childhood like a dream… Dallas is a new place for me, and I think we will do everything great and I just want to be thankful for that opportunity.”
As for his family, Seva’s brother and mother have remained in Turkey. His sisters, remarkably, have gone back to Ukraine.
“I know it’s so dangerous for them still,” Seva says. “They’re like, ‘We’ll just see what happens.’ I hope everything will be okay.”
With the unprovoked war dragging on and instability throughout Ukraine and Russia, Seva is not sure what his own future will hold. It’s been two years since he stepped foot in his homeland of Ukraine, and he also misses his friends in Russia tremendously.
“I don’t have, like, exactly plans,” he says. “I have some offers to keep going and to maybe change companies next season, but we’ll see. I just want to dance, I just want to improve myself, and help my family.”
Coincidentally, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet premiered exactly 130 years ago, in December 1892, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. What has now become a holiday tradition around the world features themes of growing up, conquering fears, and finding beauty in lands around the world.
They are themes that resonate offstage with Seva.
“Art, and in this case, ballet, help people to forget for a while about problems outside,” Seva says. “They come to see this performance and they see me, like, as a prince in Nutcracker, for example, and they think about this. Art makes people think in a better way.
“With this situation (in Ukraine) ... we can change it if we will start thinking in a different way, like a more peaceful way, and art helps with this.”
Tuzer Ballet presents "The Nutcracker," 2 pm December 17 and 18 at Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, Richardson. Tickets: $20-$80 through the Eisemann Center website.