The story of Pinocchio is not often used by ballet companies around the world as a subject for ballet. So it’s very ambitious and praiseworthy of the Hong Kong Ballet to create a new ballet based on this 19th century Carlo Collodi tale to mark the opening of its 2015/2016 season.
The result is a two-act ballet lasting just over two hours created by the Swedish choreographer Par Isberg. The story is quite well known due to the adaptation for the 1940 Walt Disney animated film. Geppetto creates Pinocchio from a block of wood. Pinocchio is constantly watched over by the Cricket who represents his good conscience. Instead of going to school, he goes to a puppet show, but is tricked by the cunning pair, the Fox and the Cat. When Pinocchio starts lying about his adventure to the Blue Fairy,
his nose starts to grow. This well-known scene is imaginatively conveyed in the ballet by shadow play.
In Act 2, Pinocchio befriends Lampwick, the laziest and naughtiest boy in the class, who tempts him to skip class and play in the Land of Candy. Later he is swallowed by a whale that has earlier swallowed his father. After repenting of his past misdeeds, he is finally transformed into a human being.
Widely advertised as a ballet for children over the age of three, I, however, have some reservations about its suitability for children. Firstly, the narrative is unnecessarily complicated, and is sometimes even unclear to adults, let alone children, who haven’t read carefully the synopsis beforehand. In Act 2, the circus scene with Pinocchio as a donkey is muddled and difficult to follow. At times, the ballet is also too dark and sinister for children. In the final scene in Act 1 with doctors at Pinocchio’s bedside, the identity of the two unknown menacing black-clad figures who tie up Pinocchio is unclear.I am also baffled by the pas de deux towards the end of the ballet for the Blue Fairy and Geppetto, as there is not known to be any romance between them. But I guess it might signify Pinocchio’s desire in his dream to have the Blue Fairy as his mother. As the main ballerina role, the Blue Fairy is nevertheless not as prominent as the Cricket who appears more often throughout the ballet.
Isberg’s choreography is pretty effective overall. It certainly helps that Respighi’s music chosen for this ballet is so danceable. The best choreography is in the solos for the Cricket and for Pinocchio. The ballet seems to be a non-stop suite of classical dances succeeding one another. The choreography for the puppet theatre scene in Act 1, as well as for the sea world scene in Act 2, is particularly outstanding. The divertissement for the jellyfish, sea horses, and starfish is ravishing. Nevertheless, the addition of more
character dancing would have been better as a contrast.
The whole company’s dancing was commendable. Shen Jie was excellent in the title role. His technical virtuosity was breathtaking. His acting was also superb; he perfectly conveyed the innocence of the character. Li Jiabo was warm and loving as his father Geppetto. Jin Yao was a benevolent Blue Fairy. Liu Yuyao was vivacious as the Cricket, and technically dazzling in her solos. Among the supporting roles, Jonathan Spigner stood out as Lampwick.
In the second cast, Liu Yuyao was even better as the Blue Fairy. Lucas Jerkander excelled as Gepetto. They were most moving in the pas de deux. Leung Chun Long was respectable in the title role. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta was impressive under the baton of Benjamin Pope.
The beautiful costumes designed by Jerome Kaplan are attractive, while Bo-Ruben Hedwall’s set designs are eye-catching and imaginative. The lighting should be brighter at times, especially in the happy and uplifting ending. Overall, this new creation Pinocchio is an outstanding achievement for the Hong Kong Ballet.