Founded in 1947 and currently celebrating their 75th anniversary, the critically acclaimed Varna International Ballet is touring the UK for the very first time. For the second night of their tour in Edinburgh, the company bring Tchaikovsky’s classic Swan Lake to the Edinburgh Playhouse.
While the Russian State Ballet Company of Siberia were originally scheduled to perform, a decision was taken by The Ambassador Theatre Group to cancel their performances in protest Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Due to the understandable circumstances, the replacement of Varna International Ballet is a well appreciated announcement and a fine replacement.
Swan Lake features a Prince, Princesses, and magic – every little girl’s dream. The cast’s performance is technically brilliant, and they dance without fault. Many ballet fans will be familiar with the famous Leitmotif (also known as the Swan’s Theme or Song of Swans), involving a dazzling 16 turns which earn the Black Swan a rapturous applause. So too does the wonderful dance of The Four Little White Swans.
Hearing Tchaikovsky’s lush score, conducted by Peter Tuleshkov, leading the company’s orchestra brings tears to the eyes before the interval even arrives. The dual role of Odette/Odile is one of ballet’s most awe-inspiring challenges and Varna’s principal dancer embodies both characters well.
Despite the excellence of the dancing, there are a few let downs – though these may be due to personal preference. Some of the costumes feel a little pantomime-y. The evil wizard floats through the air with what looks like a bin bag cut to make feathers and the backdrop could pass as Windows screensaver graphics. While minor, they ultimately make the production feel a bit aged.
There are also a few points where the noise from the smoke machine pulls the audience out of the story, which certainly could and should be avoided.
The ending too comes across as unclear and rather abrupt, with a blue net dragged across the set presumably representing a wave that drowns both the Prince and the wizard Rothbart, with Odette still transformed into a swan.
All in all it’s a technically well performed show, and you cannot fault the dancing or the patience, persistence and determination on display. However the production quality lets it down, and with some up-scaling of the costumes and set, this production of Swan Lake could easily be elevated.