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Dancers Fleeing Russia and Ukraine are ‘Reunited in Dance’ in Orange County on the Segerstrom Stage

The Reunited in Dance cast takes a bow. Photo by Tiffany Rose, Getty Images for Segerstrom Center for the Arts

By Lydia E. Ringwald • November 16, 2022

I first met Principal Dancer Xander Parish in Orange County several years ago when he performed in a lead role for the Festival Ballet Theater Gala.

At an event celebrating the performance, Xander expressed his delight at being accepted at the famous Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and described with wry humor his efforts to learn how to speak Russian.

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Principal Dancer Xander Parish.

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The next time I would see him would be in the ‘Reunited in Dance’ performance at Segerstrom Center in November this year, after fleeing from Russia at the outbreak of the Ukraine war.

Xander Parish had a cultivated successful career in Russia and was lauded by audiences at the Mariinsky for his stunning performances. He married the talented Russian ballerina Anastasia Demidova, also a dancer in the Mariinsky Ballet.

But suddenly, in early 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, his life and career changed dramatically. Horrified by the onslaught of a brutal war, Xander Parish realized that he and his wife would have to leave Russia immediately.

Although it was emotionally wrenching to leave the Mariinsky theater, whose history they honored, but there would be also unacceptable political implications and consequences if he stayed. Rather than be used as an example, as an English citizen who would appear to tacitly approve of the war if he remained in Russia, Xander realized that they must act quickly.

Flights were full. Many Russians were fleeing while they still had an opportunity to leave. The only way out was by bus into Estonia. Xander and his wife Anastasia packed a few suitcases and fled, leaving their belongings behind and still fresh food in the refrigerator.

Other Mariinsky dancers and musicians who suffered the same dilemma and had to also flee secretly. Then came opportunity to be welcomed in Southern California and perform at Segerstrom Center, reunited with other dancers also forced to flee.

Support for the ‘Reunited in Dance’ performance was overwhelming. Tickets to the show in the theater were soon sold out, so Segerstrom Center also set up free streaming of the live performance for audience overflow onto the giant screen at Argyros Center.

The dancers received heartfelt support in standing ovations after their stunning performances and also at the party after the show.

Elizabeth Segerstrom, whose charitable foundation sponsored the performance, appeared at the events surrounding the performance to honor dancers and greet enthusiastic theater attendees.

Also attending the reception and afterparty was Salwa Rizkalla, Director of Festival Ballet, who had originally engaged Xander Parish earlier in his career to perform in Orange County for the Festival Ballet Theater Gala.

In one spectacular evening, we are all ‘reunited’ again.

Zander Parish, who had performed in Orange County at a Festival Ballet performance many years ago, returned to Segerstrom Center again in the ‘Reunited in Dance’ to be reunited with the other refugee dancers who fled from Russia in protest of the Ukraine invasion.

Although still stunned by the rapid turn of events and concerned for the safety of family and colleagues still in Russia, these dancers have been welcomed to their second home in Southern California, where they may find peace and a place to dance again.

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