VARNA IS THE WORLD BALLET CAPITAL AGAIN
The 22nd international ballet competition, the world's first and already oldest one, was opened in the Varna Summer Theatre on July 15. It will last two weeks. It is attracting particular interest this year and that can be seen from the list of participating 181 young ballet-dancers who came from 32 countries and were divided in two age groups. A feeling arises that the Ballet Olympics, as the Varna competition is called, is about to regain its past popularity and authority regardless of the strong competition by later-born similar contests in Moscow (1969), Osaka (1976), Helsinki and Paris (1984), Jackson in USA (1987), etc.
The Ballet Olympics which is a segment of the Varna Summer cultural festivities (with almost 80-year history) is among the very few events in Bulgaria that overcame the inconvenience and negation of the transition from totalitarianism to democracy and preserved its high artistic value. It is the second initiative of the former deputy minister of culture Ivan Bashev, following the young opera singers international competition (1961) which shrank into an insignificant and provincial event. The Varna contest did not let this happen despite the numerous hindrances it had to overcome. The major obstacle, financial assistance, has been surmounted by collection of funds from sources who appreciated the event - the French perfume makers Chanel, Gerlain and Nina Ricci, which have supported the competition from 1989 to 2001 by each paying tens of thousands dollars. Strong support was also guaranteed by the mythologized Japanese millionaire Masako Oya whose donations hit the record BGN200,000. For comparison, today the Ministry of Culture provides BGN5,000! The famous French luxurious goods and accessories producers redirected their interest towards Bulgaria not just because of the authority of the ballet competition, but also because of the closure of the Paris contest on the eve of the new century.
This year the jury is again presided by the well-known Russian choreographer Yurii Grigorovich who came back after a series of domestic failures of both artistic and political nature. His deputy is also famous, the ballet-dancer Natalia Makarova who fled the Soviet Union to Great Britain in 1970 and then moved to the USA. At the time she was in the flush of her dancing career and among the biggest stars on the world ballet horizon. Another name that could not be mentioned in totalitarianism is also written in the files of the ballet competition - the fugitive Mihail Barishnikov, a Varna laureate and a legend to all Soviet and post-Soviet contestants in following competitions. During the first contest in 1964, the jury was presided by the famous Galina Ulanova.
The things said above may leave an impression that one-time Soviet and today's Russian presence has a dominating influence. This is both true and not so true. The famous Cuban ballet-dancer Alicia Alonso participated in the contest many times. The appearance of the French choreographer Serge Lifar is still remembered, too. The English theoretic and ballet critic Arnold Hascel and many others contributed significantly as well. Not to mention the names of laureates many of whom became leading world artists later: the only Grand Prix winner Vladimir Vassiliev, the wonderful soloist from the Paris Grand Opera Sylvie Guillem, the Cuban dancer Fernando Buhones, Misha Barishnikov, the French Patrick Dupond and many others. It has been a long time that the ballet competition is held once in two years. International seminars on the past, presence and future of the ballet art were usually organized in the pauses. Fortunately, intelligence prevailed and the destructive elements that appeared in Bulgaria did not sweep away the competition. It now enjoys the protection of the country's first ladies and is also under the auspices of the specialized institutes at UNESCO.