Dancers Joy Womack and Adrian Blake Mitchell are coming home to Westside Ballet, having trained at the famed Santa Monica, California school years ago, but their path back to the United States is an unexpected one. Both artists found themselves having to leave their homes in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Womack left behind her job at Astrakhan Opéra and Ballet while Mitchell departed from his job at Mikhailovsky Ballet Company in St. Petersburg. The move leaves them both with heavy hearts as they loved the rich arts community of Russia, but they condemn the wartime actions of the country's leader.
Despite the challenging times the conflict has presented to them personally and professionally, Womack and Mitchell are partnering for the first time for a great cause: raising money for the Los Angeles-area ballet school on Saturday, May 7 for A Petite Soirée. "We are doing this out of love for the people of Ukraine, but also love for the community here at Westside and in Santa Monica," says Womack. "It's a love note to all of the people who supported us, so we just want to give back with the things we know how to do — which is dance."
Mitchell praised Womack for inspiring him and so many other American dancers to take on the challenge of dancing overseas. "I've known Joy for at least 12 years, but we've never danced together. She's such a good ballerina," he explains. She was the trailblazer for all of us international artists who began careers in Russia because she was one of the first ones to go over. It's great to finally be on stage with her." Together they will perform the pas de deux, "Spring Waters," to a score by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Womack will also dance the solo from La Esmeralda, and Mitchell and his partner Andrea Laššáková will perform "Adagio for Strings" with an encore performance at the company's New Horizons Spring Performance on Sunday, May 8.
Even with such an exciting weekend ahead, both Womack and Mitchell are still thinking about the next stage of their careers and what comes next. "I can't say that I have it all figured out even though I might pretend that I do. We [he and Laššáková] most likely will be in the U.S.," Michell shares. "I run a nonprofit foundation called Dance In Color, which works to create more diversity, equity, and inclusion in the dance world. One of the scholarships is here at Westside, so I hope to be here to help build that and to keep performing as long as I can — as long as my good old legs will allow me to."
Womack is also pondering the unexpected change in a very realistic way. "For me, it's been part of the not-so-happy side to this whole conflict because my life and trajectory that I thought was going to be [has changed]." she sums up. "I'm now looking down the barrel of not having a job next year because I decided to leave Russia, so it's really hard. But I have faith, and if next season looks different than I expected, then I had a great run."
To hear more of Womack and Mitchell's frank discussion about the arts in the U.S., and how the war in Ukraine upended the lives of thousands of artists, watch the full interview below.
For more information on Westside Ballet's Mother's Day weekend performances:
May 7, 2022: A Petite Soirée fundraiser begins at 6 p.m. with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, silent auction, raffle, and performance at 7:30 p.m., with guest artists including Adrian Blake Mitchell, Joy Womack, Lyrica Woodruff, and Maté Szentes. This also includes a full performance of New Horizons.
Tickets are $75
May 8, 2022: 2 p.m. New Horizons, Mother’s Day Champagne Reception
Tickets are $45
Purchase tickets here.