Kusch returns with the Royal Czech Ballet
One of the principal dancers appearing with the Royal Czech Ballet on its Australian tour will be a familiar face to some local audiences. Ukrainian-born Natalia Kusch was a principal dancer with the Queensland Ballet and the Australian Ballet between 2013 and 2015.
She was lured to Australia by Li Cunxin, who was fresh in his first term as artistic director of the Qld Ballet. He had landed a coup by securing the right to perform MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet – an icon in the classical ballet repertoire and the first time the ballet had been performed in Australia. He wanted an equally iconic line-up of international stars, and he invited Kusch, alongside such stars as Carlos Acosta, Tamaro Rojo and Steven McRae (who partnered Kusch). At the time she had a very nice job with the Vienna State Ballet and had to think deeply about her decision to leave Europe, but the chance to dance MacMillan’s ballet was too good to miss. She took the plunge and came to Australia.
“I never regretted that decision,” she says now, “because I felt in love with the beautiful country, the people and their open mind and love for my art.”
Australians did indeed love her. Critics used glittering words such as “exquisite”, "the highlight” and "poetic". She danced many lead roles with both companies. Overall, her repertoire covers a wide range, mostly the classics but including modern ballet such as Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room.
Since leaving Australia she has danced with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, starred as Carmen in Rome, in many roles in Korea, and in Slovakia with fellow Ukrainian, the famed Vladimir Malakhov, performing in most of his ballets. She was in the Odessa National Theatre Ballet in Ukraine when the pandemic shut the world down. She considers herself relatively fortunate to have been there at the time, “as we actually danced almost in 'normal' way" compared to other houses in Europe. “So I danced almost four performances per week. Of course all in all it was still difficult to work while Covid, also mental it was a hard time to me, but we needed to manage this crisis and we did finally. I'm convinced that my work in Odessa while pandemic also helped people to stay positive while such a hard time.”
Even harder however, was the next world crisis: the invasion of her homeland by Russia.
"What we all did not know this time," she says of the pandemic years, '[was] that afterward the Russian invasion to my homecountry started and so needed to leave immediately to Germany. Since Ukraine War I started there to work as a teacher in Munich. While my teaching time I was dancing of course but almost just pieces in gala performances. It was also very important to me to support Ukrainians in the best way I can, so we initiated a charity gala in Munich to collect money. I was so thankful that so much of my friends from all nations came to dance at this charity gala. “
Like so many Ukrainians, Kusch has many links with Russian people: she has danced at the Bolshoi, and she has many Russian friends, and she owes her exquisite technique to her Russian teacher. Of the war, she says: “This is clearly to refuse. It’s a rude raid and we all as my family are still suffering under this attacks day per day. Every morning I call to my mother to see how they are doing. Most of the attacks are in nighttime, so they need to go to bomb shelters, epecially in Odessa where my family lives . . ." Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea, is especially vulnerable.
"It's difficult to understand the reasons to me. I hope somewhen the time will come we will be able to do our beautiful arts again. My colleagues in Odessa already started to dance again to give hope and joy to suffering people. They're dancing until sirens are breaking up the performance and they go together to the next bomb shelter. I think about them every day and I'm very proud that the Ukraines are so brave standing together and almost the whole world is standing with Ukraines."
With the Royal Czech Ballet she will be dancing the technically demanding lead role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, one of her favourite classical ballets (sharing with Moldovan dancer Cristina Terentiev). She loves the fairytale “flair” of the ballet and adores the glorious Tchaikovsky music. “The role of Aurora need to be danced so accurately. This ballet lives from details and taste in moves. It looks sometimes so easy but I need all my experience to make the performance to a real special performance. It's not a question of technique, it's more as I said a question of finesse and accuracy.”
The Royal Czech Ballet will perform 'The Sleeping Beauty' throughout Australia and New Zealand. The tour begins in Australia on September 6 in Newcastle and takes in 25 venues, finishing in Bathurst on October 30. The company then travels to New Zealand where it will perform in five venues between November 2 and 12. Go here. for more details.
- KAREN VAN ULZEN