Jasmin Vardimon’s Pinocchio comes to Winchester
by Donald Hutera
That question is the thematic core of Jasmin Vardimon’s dance-theatre take on Pinocchio, which is about to visit Theatre Royal Winchester for three performances (Oct 13 at 7.30pm, Oct 14 at 1.30pm and 7pm) as part of a big UK tour.
Based on the iconic tale of a wooden puppet who dreams of being a real boy, this brand-new show promises to be a thoughtful, magical and ingenious staging of a familiar story. Featuring imaginative designs as well as impish and moving characterisations, the focus is likely to be on vividly expressive physicality supplemented at key points by spoken text and songs. It is also something of a departure for Vardimon, who has thus far never used a pre-existing narrative as a creative source nor fashioned a work for family audiences (recommended ages: 7 and up).
Born in Israel (where, tellingly, one of her jobs was to write psychological profiles of those who would serve in the army) but based in the UK, Vardimon established her eponymous company nearly 20 years ago. She has gradually become a real force in UK dance both for the many productions she and her collaborators have made and, more recently, because of the performance training programme she and her colleagues devised to develop the next generation of dance-based all-rounders. It might also be worth mentioning that for the past decade Vardimon has been an associate artist of Sadler’s Wells, London’s leading international dance house. It’s a top venue but, alas, still something of a ‘boy’s club’ in a country where the disparity between the opportunities being offered to female choreographers and their higher-profile male counterparts can’t be ignored. Note, however, that following its Winchester performances Pinocchio will be presented at the London venue later this month.
But leaving the politics of art aside, it’s plain that Vardimon and company’s energies are all aimed at the new show. Rather than replicating the charming but somewhat sanitized Disney cartoon classic, Vardimon’s version is more closely aligned to Carlo Collodi’s original Italian novel published in 1883 as The Adventures of Pinocchio.
‘It was written at a time when Italian society was engaged morally and philosophically in a very important question about education’, explained Vardimon during a recent interview of the BBC arts programme Front Row. ‘Can peasants be educated? Can their children go to school and become real boys, or are they destined to be merely work-force donkeys?’ As she aptly remarked, the underlying issue of equality in Collodi’s novel is relevant today.
It is perhaps revealing that Vardimon chose to cast a female dancer in the lead role of her production. This was, she says, ‘a very conscious decision’ especially as it relates to being human and the differences between people in terms of their race, gender and so on.
Now if all of this makes this Pinocchio sound like some earnest sociological exercise, as a long-time professional watcher of Vardimon’s work I can pretty much guarantee this will not be the case. Set to an evocative and eclectic soundtrack, the production is a piece of living marionette theatre with changeable settings and even the characters themselves sometimes suspended on ropes. Vardimon knows her stuff as a theatre-maker, meaning the show is bound to be layered with images, sounds and movement that stimulate the senses, activate the brain and help release the kinds of deep feelings that human beings of all ages can ponder and savour. Pinocchio should, in short, be a real treat.
Donald Hutera writes about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites in the UK and abroad.
Box office: 10am – 5pm (Mon – Sat)
T: 01962 840440
Performances: Thurs 13 – Fri 14 October
Fri 1.30pm, 7pm