Growing By The Minute
Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s “Pinocchio”
Saturday, 26 March 2011
by Dean Speer
Pacific Northwest Ballet and its School are lucky to have Bruce Wells on its artistic staff – as a valued and experienced faculty member and as a witty choreographer. His concept and choreography for PNB’s spring story ballets that are geared for the whole family, such as this one – “Pinocchio” – are well-thought through and designed, tidily choreographed, and very nicely executed by the students.
Wells gives, in only one hour, a sort of “Ballet 101" experience – a story that’s narrated, beautiful music, structured and developed choreography, costumes, humor, a bit of drama, concluding with a strong finale and reprise. He shows the characters at least twice, allowing us to get familiar with them visually and how they fit into the story.
This concept is supported by the amazing, talented, and resourceful PNB production staff who provide costumes – sometimes culled from other ballets, a lighting design, marketing, goodwill, and whose crew executes it. Plus, there is the platoon of dedicated teachers who train the students, often seeing and guiding their pupils and young charges for many years These spring ballets also provide an important performing opportunity outside of and in addition to PNB School’s Annual Performance. While certainly valuable, the Annual Performance doesn’t allow for students, usually, to be a larger ballet other than their respective class showing (of typically about three minutes each). It’s true that many students do get to dance and get experience in the perennial run of “The Nutcracker” or in some of the large-cast Company ballets; but not all students have these opportunities, so this venue is a great outlet to include and broaden the number of students receiving performing experience. .
The only segment of the PNB operation that’s not directly involved is the Company, although one of its former soloists, Alexandra Dickson, was a guest artist who appeared as the Blue Fairy [the one who grants the wooden puppet human life].
I was pleased to see how much these one-hour story ballet shows have grown over the past few years, with this matinée performance being crowded with children of all ages, primarily tykes and tiny tots.
All of the students were outstanding for their clarity of technique and sense of what and why they were doing something and how their segment fit into the overall ballet. Noteworthy were long-legged Andy Garcia as Geppetto, Jordan Veit’s multiple relevé turns à la seconde as The Cricket and, in a trouser role, Ivana Lin as the wooden puppet iteration of the title character.
Wells' Underwater Divertissement provided us with a miniature ballet-within-a-ballet that showcased the most advanced – Professional Division – students at their best, being deployed with more demanding steps, patterns, and partnering such as the pas de deux of Neptune, Steven Loch and his Pearl, Ashley Hartigan whose fouettées were deservedly applauded.
Over too soon, PNB’s “Pinocchio” grew quickly on its audience and left us happy and looking forward to next year’s family story ballet.