FANS of ballet will be thrilled to know the Varna International Ballet and Orchestra are to make their first ever visit to the UK, stopping at the Cliffs Pavilion in January and March.

The prestigious Bulgarian company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, will bring festive favourite The Nutcracker and classic Swan Lake to the Southend venue.

Varna’s artistic director Daniela Ivanova-Dimova, said she is "delighted" to be coming to the UK. She added: "We are especially excited as we’re celebrating 75 years of Varna State Opera.

"We are so happy we’re visiting the UK for the first time. To visit so many different and interesting cities and towns, with highly professional stages, it’s a great honour.

"Varna is so renowned in the ballet world because in 1964 we created the world’s first international ballet competition there.

"Many famous ballet stars from around the world have come to compete – like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sylvie Guillem. Now, our troupe is really revered in Bulgaria, and many young international ballet artists are eager to come and work here."

"A lot of hard work goes into a tour like this. We’re working very hard so that we’ll be in top form when we come to the UK.

"We hope that on both sides, the audience in the hall and the dancers on stage, we will have very happy people. Most of our dancers will be coming to the UK for the first time, and they want to show their best.

"We have about 40 dancers – that means that we can ensure, in any situation, we can continue on and give the audience a great show.

"We also have an orchestra with about 25-30 musicians.

"We have all new sets, decoration and costumes from the past year or two. It’s a very important part of these prestigious new productions that we’re bringing to the UK.

"There is nothing better than The Nutcracker to introduce the Christmas season – that’s the perfect show for families."

The Nutcracker will arrive at the theatre in Station Road on Sunday January 8, while Swan Lake arrives on Sunday March 12.

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