top of page

Sleeping Beauty was enthusiastically cheered by a full house at The Bristol Hippodrome, but was it any good?

Varna International Ballet company returned to the Bristol Hippodrome at the beginning of January for four performances of traditional classical ballets, namely Sleeping Beauty on Thursday, January 4, Nutcracker on Friday, January 5, and two shows of Swan Lake on Saturday, January 6. 

These shows are part of a two month long tour of regional cities of the UK promoted by Raymond Gubbay.

I’m guessing that Tchaikovsky’s fabulous scores and the worldwide fame of these ballets are what drew a full house. 

Unfortunately, the quality of playing, tuning and size of the orchestra at only 20 players wasn’t good enough to do the score justice, though the young conductor Peter Tuleshkov was working hard to bring it all together. 

It was the same story with the production. 

Costumes are overly fussy and shiny detracting from the dancing, though I really liked the raised transparent shoulders of the Lilac Fairy’s costume.  

The backdrops were video projections which are of disappointing quality in comparison with the technology used in many West End shows that tour here.
Bizarrely the stage lighting seemed to contribute to the washed out backdrops, yet also did not show the dancers’ faces clearly. 

More lighting from the front is essential for the audience to read the story that the dancers are trying to tell.

I am thankful for the programme and casting information, which also includes details of the full tour. 

More than 70 performances in two months. 

With coach travel between cities, there is very little time off as all the dancers appear in every show, rotating the roles in each ballet. 

A gruelling schedule! 

Dancers would also have to make time for daily class, essential for muscle toning and technical resetting, as well as warm-ups for each show. 

Presumably ongoing rehearsals happen also, though the main rehearsal period will have been in December in Varna.

The cast of dancers is small, about 30 in total.

All the soloists are young, most are only two years out of full-time training.

I believe this may have been the debut performances of Sleeping Beauty for all the leads and they did a decent job for their level of ability. 

It’s safe to say that none of these dancers would be offered jobs in the lowest ranks of any of the UK’s five ballet companies, or their counterparts globally.

Interestingly the dancers listed are from Italy, Spain, Brazil, France and the UK. 

I do wonder why there aren’t any from Ukraine or other Eastern European countries or Japan, China and Korea, who are generally of better quality than Western Europeans. 

I’m guessing because some of these names might sound Russian and their training would be Russian based. 

The Vaganova method of ballet training as developed in St.Petersburg is widely considered the best, and ballet companies worldwide are full of dancers who trained in Russia. 

The Vaganova style is also what is studied at most UK vocational ballet schools, including The Royal Ballet School.  

Many teachers and coaches in ballet companies and schools globally are from Russia.

Russia is to Ballet, what English is to the Internet!  

Returning to the dancers, some did display decent qualities to hold the performance together.  

In particular, Mara Salvaggio as the Lilac Fairy showed good control of her technique and assured stage presence. 

There was super dramatic characterisation from Mirko Andreutti as the Evil Fairy Carabosse and from Luc Burns as the hapless Cattalabutte. 

These last two carried the story.

In the two lead roles, Martina Prefetto as Aurora and Vittorio Scolè as Prince Désiré had a decent partnership and showed some good training, but I’d caution against constant flinging of legs as high as possible.

Bristol Hippodrome Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty.png

Ballet should be about controlling those movements up and down in a musical way that fits the narrative, otherwise it is just gymnastics. 

It was clear that the cast had been well rehearsed even though the choreography has been adjusted to fit these less able dancers.  

As an example of the technique issues, my experienced ballet companion remarked on the loud ‘ooh’ from the audience at the entrance of the leading man, Vittorio Scolè, aged 22, in a high split jeté out of the wings.

The audience ‘ooh’ was probably because they were impressed by his effort, our ‘ooh’ was because the technique and alignment of his hips was wrong! 

It’s a cheat’s way of achieving a split. 

Hips should both be aligned in the direction of travel. 

This same problem affected his arabesques. 

However, his hips were correct in his beautiful manège of two circles around the edge of the stage which can be seen in rehearsal on his Instagram. 

So he can do the right thing. 

I’d encourage them all to work on purer classical ballet technique, better turnout, better feet, better placement to produce better ballet.

There were some unintentional funny moments which lifted our spirits. 

One such was when the baton of the enthusiastic conductor flew out of his hands and landed on the stage, where it was intentionally left by the cast until a suitable moment when Cattalabutte could smoothly remove it without disturbing the onstage action.  Good job!

The other funny moment was actually a series of incidents with the feathered hat of the tallest of the four princely suitors of Aurora, which refused to stay on his head. 

The final fall coincided perfectly with Aurora’s collapse to the floor to start her 100 years of sleeping.

We all giggled.

Ticket prices seemed high to me for the quality of the show, but the audience generally seem pleased and the auditorium was full. 

In my view the prices should be more akin to that of a vocational school graduating show.

The bottom line is that top level ballet companies are unlikely to tour to Bristol and other cities with their sumptuous versions of these ballets, without substantial financial support and that is not going to be forthcoming whilst our government is cutting funding to the arts.  

Audiences here therefore have to make do with what comes our way.  

I have to say I am so disappointed that regions such as ours get these low quality ballet productions, when there is so much better available elsewhere. 

Bristol Hippodrome please work to get more tours from Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Northern Ballet. 

Understandably the UK’s top company, The Royal Ballet only tour internationally, and I assume Scottish Ballet are confined to Scotland, and occasionally London, by The Arts Council.

Fiona Erleigh

PHOTOS: Top Sleeping Beauty, below from left

The Nutcracker and Swan Lake

Varna International Ballet - Nutcracker Reviews. We were captivated from beginning to end of this fantastic performance, feeling as if we were swept into the heart of the story. Congratulations to the Varna International Ballet company for their creativity & professionalism. So much talent indeed!!! 


London Theatreland critic

The Nutcracker.png
Swan Lake - Paris June 2023.jpg
bottom of page