Varna International Ballet visits New Wimbledon Theatre
Having seen several modern ballet works performed by the UK’s Royal Ballet over recent years, I was delighted to hear that the Bulgarian company, Varna International Ballet, was offering performances of the classic ballets, Giselle, Swan Lane and The Nutcracker, at New Wimbledon Theatre this February. Varna International Ballet has been touring the UK since December in cities from Edinburgh to Brighton and I didn’t hesitate to get a ticket for Giselle. The great classics give me a sense of timeless comfort and nostalgia.
Giselle is a fantasy ballet in two acts with choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa and Leonid Lavrovsky, revised by Sergei Bobrov. The music was composed by Adolphe Adam and the ballet was first performed in 1841. It is many years since I saw Giselle and I was amazed by how familiar all the music was to me and it was so good to hear it again. It made me realise how important these classical ballets were in my childhood in the 1960s when I used to go with my local dancing school to see the ballet at Leeds Grand Theatre every year.
The curtains opened to a delightful backdrop of a large Germanic castle nestled atop imposing cliffs. The muted tones of the scenery were reflected in the dancers’ pastel-coloured costumes with the happiness of the couples and the girls’ baskets of flowers projecting an innocence of a beautiful and innocent world.
The character of Giselle was danced by the talented Katerina Petrova with her suitors, Count Albrecht (Tsetso Ivanov) and Hilarion (Pierre Gaston), both vying for her attention. Superb performances showing great technical and acting ability were given by all three. Tsetso Ivanov’s wonderful pirouettes along with the height of his leaps in the second act were quite amazing to behold. Pierre Gaston’s performance was of equal attraction. His forester’s green tights and thigh high boots made him a very attractive figure. The brightly coloured costumes of the aristocratic hunting party who entered in Act 1 introduced a strong contrast to the beautiful muted tones of the peasant community and were the augur of change. The wonderfully aristocratic allure of Countess Bathilde, played by Julia Visalli, was to change the direction of the proceedings and would would ultimately help to destroy the sanity of our heroine.
What struck me throughout the performance was how difficult it must be for quite a large cast to dance on a relatively small stage. I think it’s to the credit of the touring company that they can adapt easily to changing circumstances in this regard.
Act 2 sees the fantasy element come to the fore with the performance of the Wilis, (maidens who have died before marriage), in their classical white dresses, creating an ethereal ghostliness. What didn’t work for me was the projection of the Wilis floating through the air across the stage’s backdrop, although I recognise that it’s a challenge to create the atmosphere envisaged. The imposing Queen of the Wilis was performed by Francesca Busquets who cleverly presented an authoratitive aura in charge of her ghostly team.
I have mentioned just a few of the characters involved in this production, but must emphasise that a strong performance was given by all.
One must also give credit to the live orchestra, conducted by Stefan Boyadzhiev who gave a beautiful musical performance throughout. I’m sure a lot of us will be familiar with the powerful score and have gained great joy from hearing it performed by the Varna International Ballet’s orchestra.
By Carol Whittaker
February 12, 2023