Varna International Ballet, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

IN this modern era, to set out on a 24-venue tour with a programme of four classic ballets which require not only quality principal dancers and a full Corps de Ballet and orchestra, you have to have either great courage or complete disregard for your personal bank balance – and probably a little stupidity.

The Raymond Gubbay organisation may not have ticked every box with this company, which includes many young dancers and an orchestra which is a little short on numbers, but they still came up with three very acceptable productions for their third stop on the tour at the Bristol Hippodrome.

In return, local ballet fans, who have not exactly been overindulged with choices over the past few seasons, responded with very reasonable sized houses and enthusiastic receptions.

Swan Lake was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the three offerings, which included Giselle and The Nutcracker. Here the orchestra, which only partially brought out the drama in Giselle and humour in The Nutcracker, seemed much happier dealing with Tchaikovsky’s lilting score.

Even the large video projection which filled the rear of the set, moving effortlessly from grand hall to magic lake, was more effective than the imposing stone steps leading to a castle door which dominated The Nutcracker set, leaving you with a desire to see them used rather than leave the dancers with no option but to make use of the limited space in font of the false image.

The biggest change came with the performance of the ladies of the Corps de Ballet. None of the hesitancy shown by the vengeful Wilis in Giselle was on view as they surrounded Anastasia Lebedyk’s Odette/Odile. There was elegance and style to match the lovely Anastasia’s Swan Lake duo, whereas the fight between the Wilis and her Giselle never really exploded into a full battle.

In both productions, the support from the young male dancers was less secure, as someone near me remarked: “they look a little frightened”. That may be putting the case rather too strongly, but there certainly were moments when they looked decidedly insecure.

Because the threat from the Wilis, ladies determined to wreak revenge on all men for the betrayal they had suffered in love, never fully appeared, Anastasia Lebedyk and Marcello Palizzoni (Count Albrecht), had to work that bit harder to convince you that their lives here and in eternity were at risk. The result was some nice individual and duo combinations, full of deep sincerity, but lacking in urgency.
Perdita Lancaster took over the responsibility of prima ballerina in The Nutcracker, bringing a fine childlike innocence to the role of Marie. Her joy at receiving as a Christmas present her lovely Nutcracker Doll, and the way in which she blossomed into womanhood to share her love with Prince Nutcracker (Vittorio Scole) was a delight.

Less satisfying was the pleasant, but never exciting interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful collection of dance melodies. Here are five differing chances for groups and/or individuals to steal the limelight away from the principals, but, well as they were presented, none of them left the audience in awe of what they had just seen.

Neither did the running battle between the Nutcracker Prince, Xavier Lara Gil’s Queen of Mice and her henchmen, some of them overwhelmed rather than enhanced by their colourful costumes.

When, in My Fair Lady, the duchess stops to enquire who this beautiful young lady is on being told her name she replies ‘Charming, charming’, that word, rather than vibrant describes this production of The Nutcracker.

As this tour continues to another 21 venues, not coming back into this part of the world until the 19th February at Basingstoke Anvil and Bournemouth’s Pavilion Theatre from March 13th to 15th, I’m sure this young company will grow in strength as they gain in experience.


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