The National Ballet’s new version of Pinocchio – with dialogue – is almost a musical.
PINOCCHIO (National Ballet of Canada) Music by Paul Englishby, choreography by Will Tuckett at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen West). To March 24. $39-$265. See Listing. 416-345-9595, www.national.ballet.ca Rating: NNN
Italian writer Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s novel Pinocchio is a gloomy story about a wooden puppet who longs to be human. It’s essentially a cautionary tale for rambunctious children – and a creepy one at that. The beloved Disney animated movie version from 1940 softened many of the original work’s edges in favour of comedy.
Will Tuckett’s showy new interpretation for the National Ballet of Canada lands somewhere in the family-oriented middle – darkish, but dripping with comic vignettes and attention-grabbing special effects.
The blue hues and sparkles that suffuse the production highlight an ambitious multimedia design that is mostly effective – for example, in underwater scenes with animated projections of crashing waves overlaid on floating dancers. There’s a lot going on as Pinocchio’s episodic adventures unfurl; the stage is often so crowded with surreal human/animal hybrids that you don’t know where to look.
And I wasn’t sure either whether to be proud of or embarrassed by the production’s corny Canadian tropes – the plaid-shirted lumberjacks who open the show, a stalwart Mountie, the fanny-pack-wearing Niagara Falls tourists/beavers featured in the bar scene.
Tuckett’s background as a guest principal character artist at the Royal Ballet informs the choreography, which is not always balletic. Instead, the dancers embody the quirky characters, declaim in verse and group dance as a rather overqualified musical theatre ensemble.
Still, Tuckett has devised some compelling movement. Elena Lobsanova makes an enchanting Blue Fairy. There’s real magic in her delicate lines, which she maintains even while rigged for flying. Jurgita Dronina and Dylan Tedaldi are deliciously evil as the Cat and Fox who menace and tempt Pinocchio in a series of jazzy pas de deux. And Skylar Campbell, in the title role, is fully believable as a sentient wooden puppet caught up in an epic journey; he clearly expresses gullibility, heartbreak and determination, all with limited mobility.
Even so, it’s a huge relief when Pinocchio finally achieves his dream in the closing scenes. Here Campbell can finally ditch the stilted mannerisms and prosthetic nose to dance wildly with his father, Geppetto (Piotr Stanczyk), and careen energetically from wing to wing, just like a real boy.