Varna International Ballet's Swan Lake - Photo: Varna / Norwich Theatre

This largely traditional production of Tchaikovsky’s most performed ballet throws in some modern twists as part of Varna International Ballet’s 2024 UK tour.

The company regularly tour multiple shows simultaneously – this year including Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker as well as Swan Lake – which clearly presents a challenge in the economics of staging. They’ve tried to turn that vice into a virtue with the use of projections for virtual scenery rather than traditional physical sets.

It’s most obvious in the prologue, where Prince Siegfried (played by Giovannia Pompei) is seen reading a book, its contents shown on the full-size backdrop – including page turns. It doesn’t quite work, partly because the graphics lack a little, and partly because Siegfried seems blissfully ignorant of the similarities to his own story over the next two hours.

Varna International Ballet's Swan Lake - Photo: Varna / Norwich Theatre
Varna International Ballet’s Swan Lake – Photo: Varna / Norwich Theatre

That story is the typical magical realism of ballet: Prince Siegfried, told he has to marry, has a chance encounter and falls in love with a woman, Odette (Mara Salvaggio), who has been cursed to live half her life as a swan. He is tricked by the same sorcerer who cast that spell (Rothbart, played by Konsta Roos) to become betrothed to her double Odile instead. The two crossed lovers then either die or live, depending on whether the production chooses a bleak finale or a happier ending. (It’s not entirely clear in this production how things are resolved; Odette collapses at the end but appears to recover in Siegfried’s arms.)

There is solid work throughout from the corps, with the parade of the black swans at the beginning of act four the most mesmerising sequence in the production.

Salvaggio as both Odette and Odile has a challenging part and rises to the occasion for the famous 32-count fouettés, but elsewhere could be crisper in her movements. Pomepei has quite pared back choreography, dominated by hand gestures, and when he is called on to dance seems largely outdone by Roos and even Alessio Cavalera, in the supporting role of the prince’s friend Benno.

There are some nice moments in the production but it could be sharper both in choreography and performance – too often the dance seems to peter out before the end of the movement, or individual moves aren’t as sharp as they might be or end in slight stumbles.

The live orchestra is an increasingly rare treat for dance shows.

There’s good reasons for Swan Lake being one of the most performed and most loved ballets, and this production delivers all the key parts – it just lacks the energy to really spark.

  • Varna perform The Nutcracker at Norwich Theatre Royal on Saturday, February 10, 2024. Their UK tour continues at Basingstoke, Brighton, Northampton, Leicester, and Oxford.