Dallas — Everyone’s heard the tale of a wooden boy with a tendency to lie and a nose that magically grows. While the classic story of Pinocchio has many versions, his longing to be a ‘real boy’ has inspired children across the world. Elements of magic, mystery, and moral quandaries are key to any version of the tale—especially in Texas Ballet Theater’s adaptation. Enlisting the help of The Royal Ballet’s Will Tuckett as choreographer, TBT retold this story through lavish sets, multi-media garnishes, and of course, sensational ballet technique. No expense was spared for this extravagant affair. Through collaborators, accompaniment from the Dallas Opera Orchestra, and help from the Professional Division of Texas Ballet Theater, Pinocchio captured all the extra theatrical finesse one might see in a Broadway musical. The expansive production yielded a wonderous evening fit to entertain all audiences—from the little ones, to the adults who are still children at heart.
As soon as the curtain rose at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House (the performances repeat May 24-26 at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall), viewers were transported to a land of fantasy—whimsical characters of lumberjacks squatting, slashing, and chopping, enormous sparkling trees, and a graceful Blue Fairy (played by Nicole Von Enck) set the stage for Pinocchio’s emergence. At the performance reviewed, Drake Humphreys breathed life into the fairytale character of Pinocchio by awkwardly stepping onto his heels, hobbling around an awestruck Geppetto (Alexander Kotelenets), and skipping enthusiastically on his newly discovered legs. The spectacular set and costume design by Colin Richmond even gave Humphreys a growing nose. (The cast changes at different performances.)
Tuckett’s choreography focused heavily on character development. While the school children tilted their heads playfully and ponied from side to side with springy, youthful knees, the Puppet show cast flapped and flopped chaotically to highlight the diverse, eccentric group of animals and onlookers. One pair stood out for their combination of stylistic pantomime and technical capabilities: the troublesome Fox and Cat, performed by Jiyan Dai and Katelyn Clenaghan. The two commanded attention in their sly wrist flicks and sneaky leaps. Of the entire cast, this duet earned the most authentic connection award.
As the story progressed, Pinocchio found himself further and further from the safety of his caretaker—hiding in rowdy bars and getting lost in dangerous forests. After a lengthy amount of time spent developing the characters through quirky, stylized movements, viewers finally got a taste of the graceful, articulate ballet technique for which TBT is so well-known. Blue bird ballerinas swept through the forest with swaying lifts, soft floating arms, and sharp fouettes—a much needed visual contrast to the theatrical elements of the majority of the production.
Act I closed by introducing the magic of projection and stage tricks as Pinocchio and Geppetto got swept away in a stormy sea. Suspended in the air by invisible cables, the two appeared to float through the splashing waves projected on the screen. Dancers in black bodytards spiraled across the ocean floor, adding to the chaos with windmill arms and swift turns. The combination of visual and auditory stimuli gave audience members a taste of what was to come in Act II.
Another dazzling set appeared at the top of the second act as Pinocchio and the school children entered the darkly hypnotizing “Funland.” As Ringmaster, Andre Silva projected charisma and energy through his hyperbolic hand flicks, quick turns, and impressive leaps—another highlight of the evening.
Despite being taken advantage of, having turned into a donkey, and getting trapped inside a whale, the clever Pinocchio escaped with his band of misfits back to dry land where the Blue Fairy greeted them with an enchanting spell—transforming Pinocchio’s wooden body into a real boy. Finally, we saw Humphreys’ true capacity for peppy jumps, lively turns, and expansive reaches. However, just as the audience was introduced to the buoyant new Pinocchio, the curtain fell. I’d hoped for a bit more time with the more technically advanced version of Humphreys before the close of the show.
TBT’s Pinocchio embraced the imaginative nature of the classic story by producing an immersive, theatrical experience. The detailed sets, multi-media elements, and wide-range of characters transformed a classical ballet company into embodied storytellers. While I longed for more sections of complex technique, the overall experience was nothing short of a fairytale come to life.