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Varna International Ballet – The Nutcracker | Theatre Royal Brighton

Varna is a Bulgarian Black Sea resort boasting a truly international ballet company that was founded in 1947, not only performing but teaching and holding competitions.
Varna International Ballet - The Nutcracker
The present youthful company is currently on a nine-week, twenty-one venue, tour of the UK, performing each of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. I caught The Nutcracker at the start of the company’s three-day stop-off in Brighton, and a very enjoyable evening it proved to be.

First staged in St Petersburg in 1891 as half of a double-bill with the same composer’s opera Yolanta, it was at first not that successful and was not staged in this country until 1934. The slight plot introduces us to Marie who receives a wooden nutcracker as a Christmas present. Late at night, when all the party guests have left, Marie creeps downstairs to play with her Nutcracker which, thanks to the magic of Drosselmeyer, Marie’s Godfather, transforms into a handsome prince. She is then whisked away on a magical adventure which gives every opportunity for some spectacular dancing.

The role of Marie was danced by Andrea Conforte at the performance I saw, bringing a youthful innocence and charm to the part as well as some fluid dancing. The prince was Alessio Cavalera, suitably dashing in role and very athletic, especially in the final pas de deux. Lorenzo Poggianti had great presence as Drosselmeyer, greatly aided by an imaginative costume.

In fact, some of the chief pleasures of this production were the design elements. All the costume designs were spectacular and very imaginative, from the paper lanterns of the Chinese dancers to the mice! The basic set, consisting of drapes, constantly evolved with the aid of “magical” (as the flyer has it) computer-generated projections which could have become irritating but focused the attention on the ballet. When I have seen this company before I remember being struck by the effectiveness of the lighting, and so it was this time: always ensuring faces were fully lit, yet adding to the mood being created. With a production that is only seen once at each venue, this is a major achievement. Unfortunately, none of these designers is credited!

The artistic director of the company, Daniela Dimova, who staged The Nutcracker, had to design choreography suitable for all sizes of stage that this extensive tour would encounter and has done this very successfully, the space never feeling cramped. Also impressive was how all the company was used, not only as corps de ballets, but also in secondary roles, often with great success, for example, Roberta Pereira in the Spanish Dance and Giulia Visalli in the Arabic Dance – again with a superb costume, especially her shoes!

My only caveat, which prevents me from giving this show five stars, was the orchestra. Peter Tuleshikov, the conductor, did a sterling job, but the string section sounded very thin and did not do justice to the composer.

But, on the whole, another very enjoyable encounter with Varna International Ballet. If you cannot catch Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty at Brighton this week, they are touring to the New Theatre Oxford before returning, totally exhausted I should think, at the end of this month. Highly recommended and full marks to Raymond Gubbay for touring ballet to communities that would otherwise never see it!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

This most famous of fantasy ballets for all the family begins as night falls on Christmas Eve.
As snowflakes fall outside, the warm glow of the open fire sends flickering shadows across the boughs of the Christmas tree and all the presents beneath.

When midnight strikes we are swept away to a fairy-tale world where nothing is quite as it seems, toy dolls spring to life, the Mouse-king and his mouse-army battle with the Nutcracker Prince and we travel through the Land of Snow to an enchanted place where the magic really begins…

Founded in 1947, the critically acclaimed Varna International Ballet returns to the UK following a breathtaking debut tour.

Renowned for its award-winning soloists and magnificent corps de ballet, the company has been delighting audiences for decades at home and abroad with its performances of the highest quality.

MON 19 FEB 2024
Varna International Ballet – The Nutcracker

TUE 20 FEB 2024
Varna International Ballet – Sleeping Beauty

WED 21 FEB 2024
Varna International Ballet – Swan Lake

View all shows at Theatre Royal Brighton


  • 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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