The Cleveland Ballet Welcomes The World

By Fatimah Harris

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“My advice would be to keep going, no matter what. Do not let anyone tell you it is impossible or that it is not worth it. Even though there may be sacrifices you have to make, the outcome is worth every bit of effort you have to give,” said Diego Castillo, a Cleveland Ballet dancer originally from Columbia.

As we know it, professional ballet has always been challenging to break into, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This process is considerably more difficult for immigrant artists who rely on artist visas to stay in the United States. Visa restrictions, coupled with the common pressure of mastery that artists endure – have made this journey even more grueling. But as members of the Cleveland Ballet have demonstrated, the challenges were well worth it in order to bring their artistry to Cleveland

The Birth of the Cleveland Ballet

Cleveland, Ohio, is known in part for it’s impressive arts and theater scene, including, of course, the Cleveland Ballet. It stages over 15 ballet performances a year, exhibiting elegance, grace, precision, and nobility. Performances include fan favorites such as Swan Lake and Shakespeare’s riveting ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Playhouse Square.

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The birth of the third edition of the Cleveland Ballet sprouted from the beautiful love story of Dr. Michael Krasnyansky, a successful Ukrainian businessman, and Gladisa Guadalupe, a decorated dancer from Puerto Rico. Together they utilized their imaginative vision, business abilities, and mastery to successfully fill the lack of classical and modern ballet in the city of Cleveland. The tagline of the Cleveland Ballet speaks volumes: “A Great City Deserves A Great Ballet Company.”

Cleveland's International Dance Community

Beyond stunning performances, the Cleveland Ballet is eminent for being a beacon of inclusivity and diversity – embracing ballet dance for all cultures, nationalities, and walks of life. Their ballet company is a beautiful reflection of our globe. The team is constructed of dancers and staff from nations all around the world, including Armenia, Japan, Brazil, Ukraine, Italy, Cuba, Columbia, and more.

Although the Cleveland Ballet creates a welcoming environment for immigrants, there are still some obstacles to overcome. Dance performers from all over the world come to America to share their gift of dance, just to be faced with unique hurdles such as a period of rising hate crimes, new legislation, increasingly strict immigration policies, visa restrictions, and even the horrific invasion of Ukraine.

Global Cleveland had the pleasure of interviewing a handful of international dancers from the Cleveland Ballet to get their insights on their immigrant experiences.

Dancing Around Hurdles

Global Cleveland asked international dancers and staff members at the Cleveland Ballet about their biggest challenges as international dancers and artists. Many talked about how difficult it was to secure visas, distance from family, and lack of work opportunities.

2021-2022 season dancer Nicola Marchionni, who was born in Italy and has lived in different countries, explained, “Immigration is very tough here in the USA; I had to wait to get into the USA for almost half a year.”

Obtaining a work visa in America can be a very complex process that requires immigrants to meet a lengthy list of standards. Most international artists strive to get an O-1 Visa (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement) which is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, according to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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Emmanuel Martirosyan trained at the Yerevan State National Choreographic College in Armenia and joined the Cleveland Ballet in 2021. Martirosyan immigrated to the United States after receiving a full scholarship from the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. He told us, “Dealing with immigration is the biggest challenge as an international dancer. It is complicated for an immigrant to live, work, and stay in America legally.”

Although immigrating to the United States has been an arduous journey for Emmanuel, he shared some silver linings with us about his positive experience living in Cleveland, “The Armenian Community in Cleveland is amazing, and it really feels like home. I love the food in Cleveland too. There are so many great places to eat.”

Emmanuel gave us excellent advice for international artists interested in immigrating to the U.S.

He says, “If they are lucky enough to get a contract in America, they should seize every opportunity because there is so much more opportunity [here]. Every opportunity opens up another window for another opportunity.”

The Cleveland Ballet Experience

While the journey to Cleveland may have been bumpy at times, it’s clear that the staff and company of the Cleveland Ballet are proud to call Cleveland their home.

Consultant Lana Krasnyansky Sokolinsky of Ukraine explains:

I think Cleveland is very cultured, truly. Being that I lived in New York for nine years and Chicago for seven years, I have been able to see a lot of cultures throughout my adult life. Cleveland does have an incredible orchestra, beautiful state-of-the-art museum, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, gorgeous architecture, terrific arts, and a food scene. So, I think people in Cleveland are used to having access to the best of everything that life has to offer! That is why it really is amazing to see the Cleveland Ballet Company rise and truly thrive through the best people all around, from the co-founders, staff, and dancers all the way to the artistic production staff. We are proud!

Diego Garcia Castillo is a Columbian ballet dancer who began his training at the national school Incoballet at the age of eight. He was offered a company contract with Cleveland Ballet in 2019 and has since performed Carmen, The Nutcracker, Sinatra, The Magic Flute, and other works.

Diego said:

“The people I have met in my time here are truly one of a kind. I came to a new place, completely in the dark, and they all took me in like family and made me feel at home. That is not something you get everywhere you go! The people are definitely a wonderful part of living here, but I am also just in love with the city’s experiences and sights.”

Advice for Other International Artists Who Are Interested in Immigrating to the U.S.

We concluded our interview by asking the talented group at the ballet what advice they would share with other international artists who are considering immigrating to the United States in hopes of pursuing their dreams.

“I say follow your dreams, your passions, and work hard! Take the hard road and not the easy road. That is always the road to remember and one that will be most rewarding! Life can be a challenge. Find joy in the challenges; after all, it is the journey and not the destination! I remind myself of this as well – almost daily,shares Sokolinsky.

For her, that meant acknowledging that it is essential to take things one day at a time.

Eduardo Permuy, a 16-year seasoned dancer from Cuba, advises, “I would tell them to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally to deal with the separation. Being homesick is very real, especially now with all the travel restrictions because of the pandemic.”

Cleveland Ballet Supports Their Own

It’s safe to say that the Cleveland Ballet doesn’t just understand, but embodies, Global Cleveland’s belief that we strengthen our city by welcoming our world. It’s thanks to their International talent that they have thrived, and thanks to their international roots that they were formed in the first place. It’s no surprise that the Cleveland Ballet has embraced giving back to the international community.

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Dr. Michael Krasnyansky, Co-Founder and President & CEO at Cleveland Ballet and Chairman of the board at School of Cleveland Ballet, came to Cleveland from his home of Ukraine. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted the ballet to give back to the Ukrainian community.

The Cleveland Ballet will be gifting the net profits of their Saturday, May 7th matinee performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to children in Ukraine.

“Ballet dancers can be described as being many things, but essentially to me, they are artists, athletes, and storytellers, Permuy concludes. “We have it all, music, dance, scenery, costume, stories, drama, comedy, magic, and we work tirelessly to bring quality art to Cleveland and its surrounding areas. So, if you have not seen us perform, I recommend that you give it a chance. Art feeds the soul.”

To support the Cleveland Ballet, visit their website: and check out upcoming shows

Hear More From The Cleveland Ballet

Global Cleveland spoke with Albina Ghazaryan of the Cleveland Ballet to speak about her internationally renowned dance career and how she’s making a home for herself in Cleveland. Watch the video below!