By Meda Kessler
Photos by Aleksandar Antonijevic
Texas Ballet Theater brings Pinocchio’s boyhood journey to the stage with lots of bells, whistles, feathers and axes.
When you find yourself asking about the number of axes and lumberjacks to be featured in a ballet premiere, you realize this isn’t any ordinary production.
Texas Ballet Theater closes out its season with Pinocchio, presented first by the National Ballet of Canada in 2017. This U.S. premiere is a co-production with the Canadian troupe.
When we first saw photographs of the dancers in costume last December, we were intrigued by Pinocchio’s wood-grain “skin” and the Blue Fairy’s abundance of feathers. And, yes, we wondered about the lumberjacks. While the Canadian ballet featured 23 lumberjacks and 23 axes, there will be 20 of each for TBT’s performances.
To refresh your memory about the need for axes at all, remember that Geppetto and his fellow lumberjacks are unable to cut up a fallen tree until the Blue Fairy hands him a magic ax. He splits the tree to reveal Pinocchio, a naive wooden boy who dreams of becoming human one day. The Blue Fairy is Pinocchio’s mother figure, who wants to save him but not possess him. Geppetto is a lonely man who wants a family and sees the possibility in Pinocchio. Pinocchio becomes separated from Geppetto and survives a series of misadventures until their reunion leads the Blue Fairy to turn Pinocchio into a real boy.
The ballet is not much like the Disney cartoon, but instead sources the 19th-century children’s novel by the Italian author Carlo Lorenzini (under the pseudonym Carlo Collodi) about a wooden puppet and his misadventures. Choreographer Will Tuckett combines the light and dark elements of Pinocchio’s story, but focuses on its sentimental heart, adding dashes of humor and lots of special effects. British costume and set designer Colin Richmond used his opera and theater background to create the costumes and props, including Pinocchio’s prosthetic nose, which grows 12 inches when he tells a lie. The Blue Fairy’s bejeweled and feathered gown sparkles and shines.
The production calls for the dancers to be animated both with their facial expressions and bodies, including in scenes in which they are wearing cumbersome costumes. Dance critics have called it an entertaining hybrid of ballet and theater.
The family-friendly production is further enhanced by live musical accompaniment in Dallas (the Dallas Opera Orchestra) and Fort Worth (the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra). Of course, the extraordinary costumes and set design create a visual feast. But the aural delight is gilded by the dancers, who also use dialogue to present the classic tale.