Monday, 6 June 2016


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Ballet Theatre UK, Pinocchio, Rotherham Civic Theatre, 4 June 2016

With perfect timing Ballet Theatre UK performed Pinocchio at the Rotherham Civic Theatre on the very afternoon that the English Defence League were demonstrating in the town centre thereby distracting 800 officers from all parts of South Yorkshire from their normal duties (see South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council grateful for disorder free demonstrations 4 June 2016). Even though their demonstration is likely to have deterred many from venturing into Rotherham to see the show the company's excellent young artists still managed to attract a better audience than the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators combined which says a lot for BTUK and also a lot for Rotherham.

I have always had a lot of time for BTUK who regularly bring fresh, new full length ballets to small auditoriums the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.  The Birmingham Royal Ballet has its midscale tours of three theatres in the North and Midlands and three in the South and West Country every May in order to bring ballet to new audiences. Last year Northern Ballet started to do the same with Madame Butterfly and are doing the same right now with Jane Eyre.  BTUK however do that sort of thing all the time.  Between 25 March and 19 June 2016 they will have performed Pinocchio in 36 venues often covering enormous differences with a few hours. For instance, between 1 and 5 June they will have travelled between Peterborough, Solihull, Great Yarmouth, Rotherham and Buxton.  I have reviewed several of BTUK's shows (see Pure Delight - BTUK's Little Mermaid in Southport 27 April 2014, The Bedouin of Ballet 12 Dec 2014 and Ballet Theatre UK's Aladdin 5 April 2015) and I know from the buzz in the bars that their performances are very much appreciated.

The story of Pinocchio is about a puppet that comes to life which when you think about it is not all that different from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which Liam Scarlett has recently turned into a ballet (see Rarely have I been so impressed by a new ballet 19 May 2016). However it is a lot less dark than Frankenstein though it is at least as complicated. Like Frankenstein the story focuses on what distinguishes a human from an intelligent machine which, of course, is also a theme of Coppelia.  It is remarkable how three 19th century stories all of which have been transposed into ballet have something to say about artificial intelligence now that our technology is on the point of delivering it.

Because the story is complicated it is difficult to follow the ballet without a synopsis and because I arrived at the theatre just seconds before the curtain rose I did not get mine until the end. The only part of the story I could remember was that Pinocchio was made of wood and that his nose would grow whenever he told a lie. Although I could recognize a fox and a cat I became hopelessly confused by the blue fairies, the circus, the schoolchildren and the signpost pointing to "School" in one direction and "Fun" in the other. Now that I have read the synopsis it all makes perfect sense.

The ballet starts off with a romantic scene that reminded me a little of Bournonville's Napoli. David Brewer is the craftsman Gepetto and Ines Ferreira is his bride.  I followed the bit where she died and came back to life as a blue fairy. I also followed the construction of the puppet and his awkwardly coming to life. Although I could recognize Emma Miller as a fox, Pedro Santos as a cat and Amy Keenan as some kind of insect (she turned out to be a cricket) and that they had been waylaid by Vincent Cabot and Charlotte Laura Eades in a circus it was not obvious to me what the school kids (especially the punchy little boy Lampwick danced by Sarah Mortimer) had to do with the story until after the performance.

If, as is likely, the company have children in mind, the choreographer might consider some sort of narration or voice over as Ballet Cymru did for Roald Dahl's Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs or English National Ballet's My First Coppelia. A programme does help a lot but even if I had received it before the show I would have needed time to digest the complicated plot. Not all children's ballets need narration. Ballet Black's Dogs Don't Do Ballet gets by without one. But this one does.

Nevertheless, Pinocchio is a gorgeous show with great sets by Martyn Plant and costumes by Daniel Hope. The music is beautiful and Christopher Moore's choreography is delightful. The ballet is coming to the end of its travels but you can still  catch it at Horsham, Stourport, Middlesbrough, Chesterfield, Margate, Exmouth or Neath. Whether you are young or old, ballet newby or ballet snob, you should try to see this work. It is the best I have seen from BTUK to date and I am now a bigger fan of this great little company than ever.

Oh and just a word about Rotherham. It is a great place for fantasy. There is a "magical apothecary" in the town centre called Grimm & Co. from which humans are excluded. I kid you not. Rotherham is a great little town and that's just the sort of fantasy and fun its kids and grown ups need. Not the politics of fear and hate.

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