Varna International Ballet
Varna International Ballet, celebrating its 75th anniversary and in the UK for the first time, have created a wonderful interpretation of the classic tale of Giselle. For me, having not attended a ballet since childhood, being able to see a show in this time honoured tradition was a fabulous way to spend an evening.
The cast is immensely talented, bringing to life a centuries-old story. Giselle’s dance of madness is a highlight of the first act. As the poor naive girl is heartbroken and deceived, she successfully expresses her growing mental decline through precise physical performance. Slowly, her movements become disjointed and clumsy, as she desperately tries to tear apart the betrothed couple. The familiar light-hearted motifs in the music occasionally overtake the dramatic, creating a disturbing contrast as we watch the character accept her downfall.
The second act takes place in the forest, and a backdrop of a cemetery is projected. It’s an ugly barren land, but encapsulates the world Giselle must live in beyond the grave. The beautiful white dresses and dancing of the Willis in front of this scenery succeeds in evoking their sinister backstories. These are ghosts of young virgins who died before their wedding day. Their incredible dancing in unison, dresses swaying as they move, nearly allows you to forget about where they are, taking you to a dream-like state. It is only through Myrthe the Queen of the Willis being cold and uncomforting do you remember that they are present due to betrayal and loss.
Hilarion’s death in particular allows the cold nature of the Willis to be reflected. As he is being forced to dance into exhaustion, while the menacing group of ghostly creatures stand by, his desperation and skills are incredibly impressive to watch. It’s even more tragic when you see Giselle’s attempts at saving Albrecht’s life, keeping him alive until daybreak.
Whilst the set is straightforward, having the wings disguised as trees and a simple, traditional house on stage to represent Giselle’s peasant roots, is enough to illustrate the setting of the story. Use of minimal staging and props complemented the dancing without taking away focus.
However, a screen with a picture projected onto the large background, with the Willis often shown flying around the graveyard, undercut this somewhat. Whilst the benefits of performing a ballet in the modern era is the option to use technology to help extend the scenery, the slightly basic nature of the editing here added a comedic aspect, which is definitely not in keeping with the tone of the show. The dancing of Giselle, Myrthe and the Willis was captivating in its own right, the dancers appearing to be entirely weightless, floating across the stage. These adequately symbolised the nature of the spirits and did not require technological enhancement.
Whilst ballet isn’t always on the top of people’s list of things to see, I highly recommend going to watch Varna International. Giselle, along with other classics which are being performed as part of their UK tour.
Giselle is playing in cycle with The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Coppélia. The company are touring the UK until March. Further information and full dates can be found here.