Jasmin Vardimon, based on The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Jasmin Vardimon Company
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Maria Doulgeri (Pinocchio) and David Lloyd (Geppetto) Credit: Tristram Kenton
Jasmin Vardimon Company Credit: Tristram Kenton
Jasmin Vardimon Company Credit: Tristram Kenton

Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) features one of the most famous characters in all of literature. It’s fair to say, however, that most people know him best from the iconic Disney film released in 1940.

Like the animated film, Collodi’s novel tells the story of an enchanted marionette who is turned into a “real boy” after successfully completing a series of trials. Unlike the film, the novel is deeply unsentimental and grapples with larger social and moral questions, including the role of education in peasant life.

In this visually striking dance piece from the Jasmin Vardimon Company, the eponymous choreographer jettisons the sweetness of the Disney version and embraces the darker aspects of Collodi’s novel.

If you’ve seen the Disney film then certain elements of the plot will be familiar to you. Lonely carpenter Geppetto (David Lloyd) crafts Pinocchio (Maria Doulgeri) from a block of wood, and the Blue Fairy (Aoi Nakamura) takes pity on the old man by bringing the puppet to life.

Rather than going to school like a good boy, Pinocchio is led astray by Fox (Uroš Petronijevic) and Cat (Estéban Lecoq), embarks on a series of misadventures—including a disastrous excursion to a marionette theatre and a brief stint as a donkey—and ends up being swallowed by a whale, where he is reunited with his father.

Providing you have some familiarity with the Pinocchio story, you should be able to follow the production’s narrative progression. There are, however, a few moments where Vardimon’s storytelling lacks clarity. No doubt this is partly due to the strange and episodic nature of the source material, but it seems a shame given the general excellence of the rest of the production.

The chief pleasures of Pinocchio reside in its superb choreography and the creation of extraordinary images. I don’t have time to describe all of the illusions woven by this production, but stand-out moments include the creation of Pinocchio, which is depicted in silhouette with Geppetto chipping away at a wooden block, and a delightful sequence in which two of the dancers recreate the famous spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp (1955) by using their feet. Pinocchio’s elongated nose is created by having all the dancers put their hands together in a row: simple but surprisingly effective.

Extraordinary effects are also achieved through the use of ropes and pulleys. The scene in the marionette theatre, in which the dancers hoist each other into the air, provides some of the production’s most thrilling, vertiginous moments.

Maria Doulgeri excels as Pinocchio, beautifully capturing the physicality of a puppet with her disjointed movements. Uroš Petronijevic and Estéban Lecoq make a riotous double act as Fox and Cat, with their surface charm and jazz-inflected movements. Aoi Nakamura is suitably ethereal as the Blue Fairy. Each of the performers, including Emma Farnell-Watson, David Lloyd, Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stauropoulos, dances Vardimon’s choreography with energy and verve.

Jasmin Vardimon’s production will linger long in my memory due to its imaginative visuals and choreographic flair.

Reviewer: James Ballands

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