They spent years building their business and their brand.
And with one foreign conflict thousands of miles away, they’ve been forced to change their name.
Ukraine natives Darya Fedotova and Sergiy Mykhaylov, directors of the School of Russian Ballet, have changed their studio name to the International Ballet of Florida effective immediately. The former dancers teach the Vaganova Method, a style developed by Russian ballerina Agrippina Vaganova, and that’s why they originally chose their studio name.
“We try to do what we can. We decided to change the name of our company,” says Fedotova. “We’re working with the website, and it’s supposed to come up hopefully [soon] with the new name. We’d like our dancers and our parents to know what’s happened.
"We know ballet. It’s not a problem. It’s a ballet all around the world. But the name has to be changed.”
Both Fedotova and Mykhaylov are former performers with the National Ballet of Ukraine and the Sarasota Ballet, and Fedotova’s father, Vadim Fedotova, is a famed choreographer.
Fedotova and Mykhaylov have been following the news and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones who are still in Ukraine. They’ve been trying to send money back home and they’ve signed a petition on openPetition asking NATO to close Ukrainian airspace.
“We’re receiving so many text messages,” says Fedotova. “We’re receiving so many pictures. We’re talking on the phone all night and you can hear the bombs and shooting. It’s crazy.”
With so much out of their hands, the dancers decided to focus on what they can change. And so there was Mykhaylov on Monday, personally scraping the logo from his studio’s doors.
They’re rebranding themselves on all of their social media networks immediately, and they’re hoping that their customers and pupils will be able to find them without a hitch.
“We just cannot keep that name,” said Mykhaylov. “When we opened the studio, the Ukrainians and Russians were like sisters and brothers. Those countries were so friendly.”
Fedotova says that a few of the company’s social media accounts were targeted by anti-Russia commentary over the last few days, but that’s not why they’re changing the studio name. She understands their perspective, says Fedotova, and she understands their fury.
“I understand why they’re doing that. Because I’m also in that position,” she says of the social media messages. “This country is fighting with my country. They’re killing my friends.”
The complicated part, though, is that the studio has a number of performances coming up. It is presenting "Giselle" on April 3 at the Venice Performing Arts Center, and the pamphlets and fliers have already been produced with the studio’s former name on them.
Denys Nedak, a dancer with the National Ballet of Ukraine, will perform in Venice with Mykhaylov’s and Fedotova’s company. The school will present "The Little Mermaid" in late May, also in Venice, and they hope to have a Ukrainian performer at that show.
But that dancer is in Ukraine right now, and they’re not sure if she’ll be available.
There’s so much work to do to make those productions a reality. But Mykhaylov and Fedotova find themselves consumed with their homeland’s struggle around the clock.
“We’re hearing from friends all the time. They’re all sitting in the shelters,” says Mykhaylov. “It’s horrible. It’s not fun to watch.”
“It’s hard to concentrate on the work. And it’s hard to do production right now. Your brain is in a different place,” adds Fedotova. “People start to ignore the performance because it’s Russian. We received a message from advertisers; they said ‘No Russian.’ We told them we’re not Russian. We’re Ukrainian. The studio is Ukrainian. We have Ukrainian dancers.”
Mykhaylov said his father and mother are still in Ukraine, and he has a best friend who is fighting with the Ukrainian military. “He’s fighting,” he says. “I hope he’s still alive.”
Fedotova, her fingernails painted blue-and-yellow, has called Sarasota home for two decades, but the godmothers to both of her children are still in Ukraine. Her mind is there. Her heart is there. And she wants to declare that she’s with them body and soul.
“We’re not Russian. We are from Ukraine. It’s our fatherland,” says Fedotova. “If you see what’s going on, you’ll react that way from the Russian name. You will. We want to say thank you for reacting like that. But we are not Russian.”