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Varna International Ballet and Orchestra – Giselle

Varna is a large Bulgarian coastal resort on the Black Sea and, like many former Soviet cities, has an impressive ‘state’ theatre with opera, ballet and drama companies. The ballet company was formed seventy-five years ago and to celebrate is now touring the United Kingdom for the first time. As the name ‘international’ suggests, the troupe includes dancers from several countries.

Varna Ballet - Giselle. Credit Arabella Neville Rolfe.
Varna Ballet – Giselle. Credit Arabella Neville Rolfe.

Adolphe Adam composed over eighty stage works, both operas and ballets, in a comparatively short life, the music for Giselle, by far his most popular work, being written in two weeks in 1841. The story concerns peasant girl Giselle who is loved by Hans, a forester, but who in fact loves Albrecht, who professes his love, but is in fact a nobleman betrothed to Countess Bathilde. When Giselle discovers this she dies of a broken heart. In Act Two, which takes place in a forest graveyard, the spirits of maidens (the “Wilis”) betrayed by their lovers arise to torment both Hans and Albrecht, who is saved from death by Giselle’s love.

Much of the dancing in this slightly abridged (thirty minutes of music is omitted) production by Sergei Bobrov is of a high standard, particularly that of the Corps de Ballet who are on stage almost throughout the second half and are asked to execute some quite challenging choreography.

Giselle is danced by Anastasia Lebedyk: this is a totally believable performance as she not only dances gracefully, she also imbues Giselle’s character with the necessary innocence needed in Act One, as well as her love for Albrecht in Act Two.

Dark-haired, suave Marco di Salvo is Count Albrecht, passionate in the first half and clearly heartbroken when his deception of Giselle is brought to light. His dancing, most notably in Act Two often seems effortless, especially in the Grand Pas de Deux which is the climax of the whole ballet.

Federico Farina is Hans (Hilarion in the original ballet), very tall and imposing as is Giulia Visalli in the role of Countess Bathilde, in the striking costume she has been given.

Design is by Lora Marinova, including two superb painted backdrops: The Rhine Valley with a huge prominent castle, followed by a chilling graveyard by night – which metamorphoses into sunrise, plus colourful flowing costumes for the entire company. The unnamed lighting designer also needs to be highly commended for lighting the dancers’ faces without the apparent use of follow spots and for creating a very atmospheric opening to Act Two.

I enjoyed this production very much. What prevents me from giving it five stars is the orchestra, conducted by Stefan Boyadzhiev, which was, frankly, poor. Intonation was suspect and often painful and the strings sounded thin and under-nourished. This was a shame as otherwise, this was an excellent evening.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

The most poignant of all classical ballets is filled with dramatic passion in a chilling and heart-rending tale of love, treachery and forgiveness from beyond the grave. The moving story of delicate Giselle and her aristocratic but duplicitous lover Albrecht is set to a glorious score. From the visual splendour of the rustic villagers happily gathering the harvest at the start of the story to the eerie moonlit forest haunted by beautifully drifting spirits, this production is unforgettable.

Raymond Gubbay Limited presents Varna International Ballet and Orchestra visiting the UK for the very first time in their 75-year history with classical performances of THE NUTCRACKER, SWAN LAKE, COPPÉLIA and GISELLE. Varna Ballet will visit Theatre Royal Brighton from 13 – 15 Feb 2023.

Theatre Royal Brighton
13 Feb – Giselle 7.45pm
14 Feb – Swan Lake 2.30pm & 7.45pm
15 Feb – Nutcracker 2.30pm & 7.45pm

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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