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As war rages in Ukraine, Greenport student’s plan to attend prestigious ballet academy upended

The Russian invasion of Ukraine should not have impacted Peter Gwiazda, a high school student thousands of miles away on Long Island. But the ripple effects of the devastating conflict ultimately hit home. 

The Greenport High School senior had been accepted to the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy only a few weeks before the six-week intensive program was abruptly canceled. Instructors in the program could no longer travel from Moscow to New York City.

“I was disappointed because I worked really hard and this was my first ever time getting into a program like this,” Peter said.

The prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in New York City is one of the oldest ballet institutions in the world. The program was scheduled to begin June 27 and run through Aug. 5.

Program director Rina Kirshner, who is also vice president of the Russian American Foundation, declined to comment as the academy focuses “on assisting the dancers in adjusting their plans for the summer.”

Peter, a familiar face on North Fork stages, has performed at theaters in Greenport, Mattituck, Riverhead and Westhampton Beach. He has been in productions of “The King and I,” “School of Rock,” “Sister Act” and “The Sound of Music,” among other shows. He has over a decade of training in ballet, tap and jazz and has been an apprentice at Peconic Ballet Theater in Riverhead for 11 years.

He hoped to dip his toes into the professional ballet world through his experience at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. 

John Gwiazda, Peter’s father, said before the program was canceled, the academy had been optimistic at parent meetings, despite the conflict. 

“They thought that they could get the visas they needed and get the teachers out of Russia,” Mr. Gwiazda said.

Mr. Gwiazda said that his family is from Ukraine and although it’s disappointing the classes were canceled, their hearts are with the Ukrainian people.

“You’ve got to feel bad for these people in Ukraine that are, suffering a whole heck of a lot more than missing a dance intensive,” Mr. Gwiazda said. 

Peter said he continues to work hard and will be auditioning for the four-week summer program with the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Torrington, Conn.

“I think right now we need to just stand with Ukraine,” Peter said.