Some days you’re up, some days you’re down. Ballet Frontier of Texas’ An Evening of Ballet and Pinocchio at the W.E. Scott Theatre in Fort Worth is a roller-coaster ride of moments—good, bad and everything in between. As usual, the company brings in guests artists from Texas Ballet Theater. Paul Adams, Robin Bangert, Shane Howell, Paige Nyman, and Philip Slocki appear for this year’s offering.
Opening the show is a premiere from Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng, Piano Concerto No. 1 with music by P.I. Tchaikosvsky. Instead of easing the audience into the choreography, Tseng brings out intricate movements and groupings right at the beginning. This choice proves to be a bit chaotic, and timing issues and bobbles abound.
Luckily, things slow down with a series of duets. Marina Goshko lights up the stage with her smile as she shares a playful segment with fellow principal dancer Andrey Prikhodko. Adams and Nyman provide a smoother mood with their pas de deux, but Bangert and Slocki bring the most excitement with Bangert’s varied performance expressions and Slocki’s gravity-defying beats. The rest of the ensemble returns to finish out the work with group choreography.
Overall, it feels like this piece needs more time. Whether it’s due to opening night jitters or lack of rehearsal, many of the dancers look unsure, like they’re not quite comfortable with the movements. Transitions tend to be a bit choppy, and it lacks group cohesion. It’s a good piece to keep in the repertoire, but it looks like it hasn’t matured yet. Also, this is one work that, even in tight economic times, should really have live music.
The second dance of the act, Ode to Heavenly Joy with music by Mahler, is a nice work to transition young dancers into contemporary ballet. Unfortunately, like the previous, the performers seem like they need more time to get deeper into the movement qualities of the piece. Many of the dancers execute some fairly solid pirouettes and other steps, so it’s evident that the classical technique training is coming along nicely.
The feature work of the evening, Pinocchio, is a nice departure from traditional ballets and very similar to the animated Disney film in its narrative. Geppetto the toymaker (Adams) is in the process of creating a life-like wooden puppet (Bangert), while the Cricket (Slocki) looks on. The Blue Fairy (Nyman) and her entourage enter unbeknownst to Geppetto to bring his puppet, Pinocchio, to life.
Like any young child, he dives into his share of trouble, including skipping school and getting himself captured twice. Fortunately, the Cricket is there to help him out of his bad situations. But, when they learn that Geppetto has been swallowed by a whale, it takes a group of mermaids and other sea creatures to rescue all of them. After the frightening ordeal, the Blue Fairy returns to transform Pinocchio into a real boy.
Like many ballets, it’s questionable whether ballet vocabulary at all should be used to portray certain characters. This is especially true for title character, which Bangert performs en pointe. Her choreography switches between traditional ballet and the stiff-styled “toy doll” ballet, and she transitions between the two beautifully, but it makes her character a little perplexing. But, since this is a ballet company, the choice is understandable.
The style, however, works great for the Cricket, who is brought to life by an energetic Slocki dressed in a green plaid coat with tails. His bounding leaps and beats infuse excitement into the ballet and complement Bangert youthful enthusiasm.
The ensemble dancers look much more at home with this choreography than that of the first act. Performance quality remains a little more consistent, as well. Production elements show some creativity, especially with the whale. This goes to show that a large budget is not always required for the story ballets.