(reviewed at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich on 14 December)
The Jasmin Vardimon Company has taken up a pre-Christmas residency at the DanceHouse for the last leg of its autumn tour. Any dance drama which can hold the attention of a schools audience for a full 90 minutes without an interval has discovered a magic formula.
In Vardimon’s case this is a clever mix of minimal spoken narration, sthletic dance movements, circus skills and a subtle dose of the surreal in the staging. Disney this is not. Rather it takes the original 19th century Italian story of the puppet-carver who, Frankenstein-like, makes a humanoid marionette that then leads a life of its owen.
We see the making process in shadow-play, then a fairy gives the gift of a heart (and so life), but Pinocchio has to learn that existence has responsibilities as well as adventure. We meet also the predatory Cat and Fox, a bunch of playground bullies who have perfected the art of exclusion from their group and a ringmaster whose smile and gentle encouragements quickly turn vicious, even sadistic.
All this is achieved with the aid of designers Guy Bar-Amotz, Chajine Yavroyan, Abigail Hammond and Jesse Collett in a seamless collaboration with Vardimon. Performers are Maria Doulgeri, Emma Farnell-Watson, Estéban Lecoq, David Lloyd, Aoi Nakamura, Uros Petronijevic, Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stavropoulos.
The soundscape is an ecletic one, balancing the visual elements – it’s not just the individual performers and set pieces who take to the air from time to time. The donkey masks are noteworthy, as are the linked bare forearms for Pinocchio’s lying nose and the skein of apparently cut-out dolls, such as one sees in illustrations of Victorian mantelpiece Christmas decorations.
Pinocchio runs at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich until 18 December. Check the theatre’s website (danceeast.co.uk) for performance times.