Review: Hong Kong Ballet’s Pinocchio

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To mark the opening of the 2015/16 season, the Hong Kong Ballet has ambitiously presented “Pinocchio”, based on the 19th century tale by Carlo Collodi. Not exactly the most popular work with ballet companies in the world, the company deserves praise for its boldness.

The result is a two-act ballet lasting just over two hours created by the Swedish choreographer Par Isberg. The story describing the journey of Pinocchio is rather well known as a moral tale for children, due to the cartoon adaptation by Walt Disney in 1940. Created from a block of wood by Geppetto, Pinocchio goes on fantastic adventures with his sidekick, the Cricket, who also acts as his conscience. The famous scene in which Pinocchio’s nose elongates when he tells a lie is imaginatively conveyed in this ballet by shadow play. After a series of missteps and mishaps including being swallowed by a whale, Pinocchio repents his past misdeeds, and is finally transformed into a human being.

SEE ALSO: Par Isberg interview

Isberg’s choreography is pretty effective overall. It certainly helps that Respighi’s music chosen for this ballet is so danceable, the best choreography being the solos for the Cricket and 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.

Shen Jie is excellent in the title role. Not only is his technical virtuosity breathtaking, his acting is also superb, perfectly conveying the innocence of the character. Li Jiabo is warm and loving as Pinocchio’s father Geppetto. Jin Yao is a benevolent Blue Fairy and Liu Yuyao is vivacious as the Cricket, technically dazzling in her solos. Among the supporting roles, Jonathan Spigner stood out as Lampwick.

Widely advertised as a ballet for children, there are however some reservations about Pinocchio’s suitability for children. The narrative is unnecessarily complicated, and is sometimes even unclear to adults, let alone children, who haven’t carefully read the synopsis beforehand. At times, the ballet seems too dark and sinister, for example is the scene where doctors gather at Pinocchio’s bedside, the identity of two menacing black-clad figures who tie up Pinocchio is unclear and unsettling. In Act 2, the circus scene with Pinocchio as a donkey is muddled and difficult to follow. The pas de deux towards the end of the ballet is slightly baffling, for there is no known romance between the Blue Fairy and Geppetto. However, it might be interpreted as Pinocchio’s subconscious desire to have the Blue Fairy as his missing mother. Rather puzzlingly, the Blue Fairy which is the main ballerina role in this ballet, does not feature as prominently as the Cricket.

The performance of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta is impressive under the baton of Benjamin Pope. The costumes designed by Jerome Kaplan are dazzling, while Bo-Ruben Hedwall’s set designs are eye-catching and imaginative. The lighting could be brighter at times, especially during the uplifting ending. Overall, this new rendition of the classic is an outstanding achievement for the Hong Kong Ballet.

Author: Kevin Ng

For more events from Hong Kong Ballet, visit hkballet.com.

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