TABANOVCE, Macedonia (Reuters) - The plight of thousands of migrants stranded in the Balkans has helped inspire Russian prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova to prepare for a new ballet version of "Carmen" - this one set in a refugee camp.
Kolesnikova, more normally seen dancing with the St Petersburg Ballet, is working with charity Oxfam to draw attention to unaccompanied children who are among the wave of refugees that has swept into Europe over the past few years, many of them fleeing conflict zones.
She visited the Tabanovce refugee camp close to Macedonia's border with Serbia on Wednesday, meeting the hundreds of migrants trapped there by Balkan border closures.
Her experiences will influence the new dance interpretation of Bizet's opera Carmen, a tragic tale of jealously and love between a soldier and a gypsy woman.
"Her name was Carmen", choreographed by Russian Andrei Kuznetsov-Vecheslov, is set in a r camp "on the fringes of Europe". It will be premiered by Kolesnikova and the St. Petersburg Ballet Theater at the London Coliseum in August before taking on a world tour.
Part of the proceeds from London ticket sales will go to help Oxfam's work.
"We had the idea to make a ballet, 'Carmen', and Andrei had the idea that the plot should be set in a refugee camp ... We decided to visit a real refugee camp and see with our own eyes how it all works and talk to people and listen to their stories," Kolesnikova told reporters in Belgrade where she watched dancers rehearse at the National Theater the next day.
She said she felt "a state of shock" when she visited the camp, where migrants gathered around her.
"The psyche of these children is already traumatized and they need help. Their eyes have seen things we cannot imagine, not in our dreams. Horrors they went through and have seen. They were ... hugging me, a strange woman. I was nobody for them. Maybe they have seen an image of security in me," she said.
She said a girl put a toy ring on her finger and she found this so powerful she was now looking for a way to incorporate the flower-shaped ring into the new production.
"It is horrible when families are separated, when for example the husband and father is already in Germany ... and the family is in the camp, a woman with small children, and they have no possibility to re-unite," Kolesnikova said.
"I spoke with a woman who gave birth 10 days ago and her husband has managed to cross the border and he's already in Germany. That's really hard. Because she was sitting there holding a baby and not knowing whether she will see her husband. There are so many stories like that."
Reporting by Miran Jelenek in Tabanovce, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; editing by Adrian Croft/Jeremy Gaunt