Swan Lake Review – Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Swan Lake Varna
Image Source: ATG

Show: Swan Lake
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Tuesday 24 January 2023
Time: 19.30
Running Time: 135 minutes inc. Interval
Production Company: Varna International Ballet


Formed in 1947, and currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, the critically acclaimed Varna International Ballet is touring the UK for the very first time. Upon checking the programme, it indicates that the superb soloists and corps de ballet hail from all over the world. However, their home is the historic building of the Varna Opera House in Bulgaria.

The company – comprising 40 dancers and 30 musicians – is presenting three performances: Giselle, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker throughout January at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre.


I was fortunate enough to see Swan Lake. The story of Prince Siegfried (danced by Marcello Pelizzoni), begins at his birthday celebration. Things sour a little when his mother, the Queen (Giulia Visalli) requests that he find a wife as soon as possible.

This demand comes as a bit of a shock to the footloose and fancy-free prince. He leaves the party and wanders down to the lake (as you do). Once there he comes across the swan maidens. This atmospheric scene is truly lovely (a bit of dry ice helping to set the scene). He meets Odette, a beautiful princess who spends her days as a swan and nights in human form thanks to a spell by an evil sorcerer – Rothbart. (Frederico Farina). We are then treated to a spellbinding pas de deux. He falls in love with Odette and promises to marry her.

In Act II at the sumptuous castle hall (more information regarding the backdrop later), a Grand Ball takes place with the Queen and Prince Siegfried in attendance. The plan is for him to give the Hungarian, Russian Spanish, Italian and Polish maidens the once over as the Queen is keen for him to marry. The maiden’s costumes were all amazing, colourful, and authentic with exciting and vibrant choreography. So much attention to detail. A real stand-out scene of the ballet for me.

His head is turned

However, Sigfried’s heart is set on Odette. Suddenly, Odile, a temptress in black tulle joins the party. Odile catches the Prince’s eye. The black tutu with beautiful red flashes stands out prominently against the background. His head is turned! I should mention here that Odile and Odette are danced by one wonderful ballerina.

Odette finds out about it and is heartbroken. However, the prince remembers his promise to Odette and finds her at the lake’s edge. They are reconciled. Suddenly, Rothbert appears and reminds Siegfried he is promised to Odile. There is a fight and Odette throws herself into the lake, the prince follows and they both drown.


I thought the scenery was a little lacklustre. Dare I say, a bit tacky? It could have been so much more beautiful. There were two alternating scenes, the moonlit shimmering lake (which at one point had a projection of swans flying across it) and the palace background, complete with projected fake flames. I think they could probably have done with some additional dry ice.

The Score

The greatest romantic ballet of all time is brought to life by Tchaikovsky’s haunting and unforgettable score. The live Varna Orchestra, ably conducted by Peter Tuleshkov was faultless. It was incredible how each dance move was choreographed faultlessly to the music. Each leap, lift, and balance was timed perfectly and the music added and enhanced the appropriate drama, sorrow, or comedy.


The Corps de Ballet were marvellous, the cygnets were mesmerising. I have seen a slightly tighter performance but nevertheless, this was an ethereal execution. Gliding across the stage, lifted effortlessly by their dance partners. It appeared they were as light as the feathers they wore.

The soloist male dancers reached unbelievable heights. Magnificent cabriole leaps and grand jetes. The audience responded with enthusiastic applause throughout the show.


The Varna International Ballet’s Swan Lake was very special and I’m sure Giselle and The Nutcracker will have been also. The evening was very entertaining indeed.

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Overall Rating – 8/10 – Very Good