Pinocchio, Maria Doulgari; Geppetto, David Lloyd. Other characters: Emma Farnell-Watson, Esteban Lecoq, Aoi Nakamura, Uros Petronijevic, Stefania Sotiropoulous, Alexandros Stavropoulos.
To have Jasmin Vardimon’s innovative and versatile modern artistry visit Worthing with a world-class production such as this has created a landmark in the town’s dance entertainment history. And to have a substantial audience materialising from the area in response suggests promise for the future.
It came almost as a shock to find this happening. Worthing was as (JVC) Jasmin Vardimon Company’s 10th of only a 14-venue world-premiere British tour between late August and mid-December - the seventh being its sole London venue, Sadler’s Wells Theatre. A feather in the local cap is that personal assistant to Jasmin Vardimon herself is Faye Ralph, from Lancing, who had studied JVC while at Royal Holloway University in Egham.
Since leaving its Brighton base four years ago to take up bigger residence in Ashford and to link with Kent County Council, JVC has expanded its footprint, grown an education programme, developed training programmes, and this tour appears to tackle head-on the need to create new provincial audience for live dance performance.
An audience larger and much younger than I expected was drawn in, which indicates a new era of marketing reach by Worthing Theatres is underway. To have included Brighton Dome on the tour would have crossed Worthing off the schedule. The established and vibrantly responsive Brighton audience with its large student population now at its core I would have expected to have given this Pinocchio a standing ovation. But JVC has evidently looked beyond going for such an easy audience win.
The depth of vision in this production, of its psychological exploration of the challenges and discoveries facing a boy growing up, the invention and scope of its movement, gesture, theatrical effect and illusion, the imagination and resourcefulness of an interactive set, the sparing use of important occasional separately-voiced narrative and having audibly breathing dancers, and with dance at times creating life-sized puppetry on strings, all left the audience half-dumbstruck by the sheer quality in front of them.
Our classic Christmastime ballet is a family-take on the much darker original fantasy of ETA Hoffmann’s ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’, written in Berlin in 1816. Likewise, Disney’s popular film of 1940 does not dare delve far into the underlying dimensions of Carlo Collodi’s ‘Adventures of Pinocchio’, written in Italy in 1883.
But characteristically here is Vardimon fearlessly doing so and creating a result that is once again strikingly greater beyond customary dance theatre – a region she has already distinctively expanded with distinction for many years. And here this was being presented to Worthing. Her choice of subject for the first time of a familiar traditional character story from our childhoods and has created a presentation that deserves to seal her name worldwide, should such touring resources permit.
It’s done with a cast of just eight versatile artistes, from Greece, Germany, Serbia, Western Australia and Britain, who as well as dancing, operate the scenery and the puppet wires in choreography which sometimes tumbles and flies out of the circus. And with the great Vacslav Nijinsky shaped by having learned some if his trade performing under the big top early last century makes this nothing anomalous.
The opening 10 minutes contains a sequence of high-impact effects that amazes. The score has 17 sources, all different, much surprising, from Beyoncè, John Fahey and Shostakovich to a Dutch street organ and Faroe Island accordion music. And throughout, Maria Doulgeri is astonishing as Pinocchio. The extent of the physical skills, timing and demands on all the cast is extensive, not least when Doulgeri attaches herself upside down to a framework pillar for a punishing length of time.
If this turns about to be the top show of 2016 in Worthing you never saw, do either hunt it down somewhere else in the coming years - or band together to urge Worthing Theatres for a repeat visit.
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