Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Despite War, Ukrainian Dance Group Returns for the ‘America’s Got Talent’ Finale

The Light Balance Kids, a Ukrainian youth dance group, wowed viewers with a high-octane performance last month on the first episode of “America’s Got Talent: All-Stars.” The dancers bobbed and wove through an upbeat arcade game-inspired routine, dressed in costumes illuminated by LED lights and acting as players inside a supersized video game.

Their performance impressed the judges enough to secure the group a coveted “golden buzzer,” fast tracking them to the finals, which will air on Monday, Feb. 20.

The final set of the act, a castle topped with blue-and-yellow flags and the Ukrainian coat of arms — the now ubiquitous golden trident worn almost daily by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — reminded viewers that the Light Balance Kids had a message to send.

“This performance is devoted to all the people who are fighting for independence in our country,” Maryna Zaitseva, 15, a dancer in the formerly Kyiv-based troupe, said in an interview. Ms. Zaitseva’s father is fighting in the war and was not able to see his daughter perform in Los Angeles, where the show is filmed.

The team has not been able to rehearse together since the war began. Some dancers fled to other countries, like Mariia Honiukova, 17, another dancer in the Light Balance Kids who is staying with relatives in Britain. The group tried to do some practices on Zoom, but it was not the same.

The State of the War

Some members could not make it to Los Angeles because of the war. A few members of the Light Balance group, the Kids’ adult counterpart who have also appeared on the talent show before, stepped in to fill their spots. Once reunited, they only had five days to prepare for their first performance.

When the group came to tape the show, “we wanted to tell people that, no matter what, light always wins and we’re here to fight for Ukraine,” said Ms. Honiukova. “We want to tell the world what is going on in our country.”

Even judge Simon Cowell, the notoriously surly creator of the program, called the number “brilliant” and the group’s best to date. The audience stood cheering as the group members wept and embraced onstage, heaps of golden confetti swirling around them.

The All-Stars season is a spinoff of the popular talent show, with favorite acts from seasons past returning to compete for the winning title. Light Balance Kids first took the show’s stage in 2019, before Russia’s invasion, and the group finished as a top-ten finalist during Season 14.

Part dance troupe, part electronic spectacle, the Light Balance Kids suit up in head-to-toe black costumes lined with LED lights and perform on a pitch-black stage. Engineers program their suits to light up in coordination with the music, choreography and the ever-changing set behind them.

The dancers said it’s impossible to fully detach from the war back home, although it has given their performance new meaning. The dark stage now symbolizes Ukraine’s struggle, and the physical lights on their costumes have become a metaphor for resilience and even joy.

“When you read the news, your heart is breaking,” Ms. Zaitseva added, “because you see all these explosions and alarms and you know that your family and relatives are there.”

But being together dancing again, Ms. Honiukova said, reminds her of “peaceful times.”

“The key to peace is goodness and light,” she said, “and we want to carry this message around the world.”

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