AFTER many decades of bringing Eastern European opera and ballet companies to tour the UK, Raymond Gubbay and his rival impresario Ellen Kent can vouch for the fact that it is an enormous financial and artistic challenge. Gubbay’s latest promotion, setting the Bulgarian- based Varna International Ballet company out on a 21-venue, 52 performance tour of three Tchaikovsky ballets, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, over a period of just two months, looks like a logistical nightmare.
Bristol Hippodrome, where all three of these ever popular ballets were presented on consecutive nights, was only the second venue on the tour and the first for Sleeping Beauty. From the production point of view there were no signs of a bedding in period being required. With sets dominated by skillfully-designed video images, and beautifully costumed, visually the production was a joy from the outset. There was a feeling however that, although this production of Sleeping Beauty has probably been in the repertoire for some time, not all the dancers were completely comfortable in their new surroundings. No great howling errors, but as the tour develops some of the dancers will probably find it almost second nature to accept the limitations and differing challenges that each new venue offers.
And also that the 20-strong orchestra, conducted by Peter Tuleshkov with the sort of verve and vitality that only someone completely in love with the music can bring, will be heard to greater effect in some of the more intimate venues on the tour. One thing is certain. Wherever they go the company is not likely to find a more receptive or varied in age and balletic knowledge audience, than the one the faced in the Bristol Hippodrome.
They were delighted with Martina Prefetto’s delightfully presented Princess Aurora, and all but cheered with joy when Vittorio Scole’s distinctive Prince Desire appeared to rescue her and produce between them a lovely romantic partnership.
Given half a chance the audience also gave the impression that they would, panto style, have hissed Mirko Andreutti’s villainous evil Fairy Carabosse on every entrance, and cheered Mara Salvaggio’s elegant good Lilac Fairy to the rafters.
Tchaikovsky’s score is full of delightful dances, in this case giving soloists a chance to bring to life The Bluebird and its Princess partner, a White Cat and Puss-in-Boots, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, as well as Cinderella and her Prince Charming. As confidence grows throughout the tour, there is no doubt that this set of dancers will find more and more humour in these beautifully scored and choreographed dances.
The four-strong corps des ballet might have been short on numbers, but with their counterparts the four Princes, pretenders to Princess Aurora’s hand, they made a telling and extremely attractive contribution to every scene in which they were involved.
It is to be hoped that the Bristol response will be mirrored everywhere on this tour, which opens up a new opportunity for dance enthusiasts and those dipping a toe into classical ballet for the first time.