“The International Ballet Competition – Varna” was established in 1964. Its first edition was held from 2 to 13 July at the Open-Air Theatre in the same city – the biggest sea resort of Bulgaria. It is the first professional international ballet competition in the world.
On this occasion the world-famous French ballet master Serge Lifar said:
“The Varna Competition is a unique event in the history of ballet, an event of huge importance…”.
And the great English ballet critic Mr. Arnold Haskell added:
“The Ballet Competition in Varna is a remarkable example of co-operation and friendship, of high professional requirements. In Bulgaria a remarkable creative atmosphere and a perfect organization have been established. One can speak of “the spirit of Varna” with respect to ballet on an international scale. Long live “the spirit of Varna!”.
Key phrases in the numerous statements of the members of the International Jury, for which the critics said that for the first time so many ballet stars had been brought together at one place, were: “Bulgaria is a small country with great initiative”, “great and useful work”, “conditions are created for the complete expression of young talents”.
Already with its first edition the Competition registered an impressive success both as organization and artistic achievements. Memorable have remained both the highly competent members of the International Jury under the chairmanship of the ballerina of the 20th century Mrs. Galina Ulanova and the unforgettable dance of classical and contemporary repertoire of Vladimir Vassiliev – the only holder of the Varna Grand Prix. Thus a principally new stage in the development of international co-operation in the field of ballet art has been initiated – a wide exchange for the preservation and propagation both of the classical ballet and the artistic trends and tendencies in contemporary dance and in the first place the noble care for discovering and promoting world ballet talents.
Years later on its analogy similar events have been established in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Perm, Kazan and Yalta in Russia, Jackson and New York in the USA, Osaka and Nagoya in Japan, Paris, Lausanne and Ulgat in France, in Helsinki, Budapest, Luxembourg, Kiev, Shanghai and Prague, etc. They continuously increase in number.
In the rapid growth of these events, however, the “Varna Ballet Competition”, justly called by the English ballet critic John Gregory as a title of the book issued by him, “Varna Ballet Olympiad”, has kept not only its advantage of the founder, but also the privilege of being of the highest prestige and popularity. In the course of of 50 years, its 25 editions have recorded the biggest number of competitors – over 2,500 dancers from 40 countries.
The indisputable authority of this exceptional cultural event is based on several basic distinctive factors:
- wide membership of the International Jury consisting of about 15-25 emblematic world ballet figures from at least 12 countries;
- a highly professional competition programme. In complexity and volume it definitely exceeds, in some cases many times, the requirements of similar events in other countries. With an optimum balance and clear periodisation it comprises of three works of classical choreography and two works of contemporary choreography. This gives a chance for full, comprehensive and creative display of the dancers by different stylistic and artistic tasks.
A strict organization which recognizes the age of the participants. Seniors and juniors are judged individually and awarded separate prizes. All activities during the out of the competition are regulated by pre-announced regulations, whereby the relevant schedule is strictly adhered to. Maximum efforts are exerted to ensure adequate rehearsals in halls specially equipped for the purpose and on the stage of the Open-Air Theatre.
Special attention is paid to the work of the International Jury. Only in Varna, among all other competitions, full computerization of voting is implemented. Each member of the International Jury gives the relevant mark immediately after the performance of the dancer. By a special device the mark is entered, with a unique code, into the Jury’s computer without any interference of an operator or mediator. A mathematical system is applied to prevent extreme personal opinions to influence the marks of the competitors.
The expenses of the competitors and their partners stay – hotel and sustenance (for the forthcoming Competition after the First Round) are covered by the organizers. For its prestige an eloquent fact is that almost all the brightest stars of world ballet in the last three decades have received their first international recognition as laureates of the Varna Competition. It is sufficient to mention such brilliant names as Vladimir Vassiliev, Natalia Makarova, Eva Evdokimova, Mikhail Barishnikov, Natalia Bessmertnova, Patrick Dupond, Sylvie Guillem, Agnes Letestu, Yoko Morishita, Martin Van Hamel, Evelin Hart, Loypa Araujo, Vladimir Malakhov, Fernando Bujones, Maximilliano Guerrra, Marin Boierou, etc.
Highly popular is the definition of the French press that “any dancer awarded in Varna has already a guaranteed prosperity in professional ballet. Even those not awarded, on their return from Varna, are already considerably more popular in their own countries.
The 20th, 21th and 22th edition was held under the honorary patronage of the wife of the President of Republic of Bulgaria Mrs. Zorka Parvanova. By tradition the Competition is held every other year in the second half of July at the Open-Air Theatre of the city. Its romantic setting, its stage covered with verdancy have become a symbol of the Varna Olympiad.
During the Competition concomitant events are also being held, among which the traditional “International Summer Ballet Academy” with classes in classical ballet, contemporary techniques and jazz. World-famous pedagogues from France, Great Britain, Russia, Denmark, the USA, Holland, etc. are being invited to teach. It is quickly gaining speed and it is expected that it will catch up with the popularity of the Competition in the nearest future. The regular international theoretical conferences are also of a definite significance. At these prestigious forums different issues of classical and contemporary choreography are widely discussed.
After 1992 the Competition is being organized, financed and carried out by Foundation “International Ballet Competition - Varna”. It raises funds only thanks to the noble donations of contributors from Bulgaria and abroad. The next 26th “International ballet competition - Varna” is scheduled July 15 – 30.2014.
Mr. Dimitar Dimitrov is Chairman of Foundation “International Ballet Competition – Varna”