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Pinocchio joins Shakespeare at new ballet performance.

This week the Cairo Opera Ballet Company presents two back-to-back performances of "Pinocchio" and "Jeu d'echecs" (Shakespeare Suite).

Contrasting lively flamboyance with a moodier sophistication -- both works contrast on technical levels as well -- it appears that the Cairo Ballet Company has reserved its stronger or more virtuosic dance performances for "Jeu d'echecs."

Although the "Pinocchio" production reads more as a children's musical or a holiday pageant, the Cairo Ballet, to their credit, has endeavored to create a truly contemporary ballet, fusing cabaret, jazz and modern dance. In doing so however, they risk compromising the very genre they have promised. The show leans on a sort of 1930s' Parisian glamour to supplement the classic plot of the wooden boy trying to become a real one.

In costume designer Alessandro Brevi though, "Pinocchio" manages to literally find its thread. Brevi's costumes are the essence of the spectacle's merit, compelling the audience to look deeper, setting tones, mood and the visual links of the performance. Indeed, the production begins with a costuming gesture -- the old wood carver Geppetto, dressing his creation with a shiny red trousers and sending him off to school.

The Cairo Ballet largely adheres to the original Carlo Collodi story, charting Pinocchio's trials to establish his honesty, bravery and selflessness in order to become "real." However, a linear understanding of his specific tests is more evident from reading the program than the actual viewing of the show, where viewers were lost in a battery of distinct scenes and images that loosely refer to tale and only occasionally features our young hero.Aa

Truth be said though, this phenomenon is common to ballet and opera all over the world. As it stands, choreographer Sebastino Coppa seems to have divided the story into parts, devoting his efforts towards realizing the individual scene to its fullest.

Highlights of the production include the school scenes in which Pinocchio must confront his urge to be accepted by the school's bad boys that highlights the larger moral questions of right and wrong. Apart from the ethics which might appeal to Cairo audiences, it is again the marvelous costuming and decor in these scenes that lay the foundation for the visual delight. Pinocchio's peers wield oversized books and black robes of Elizabethan school boys. They soon tear off these robes to reveal red striped prison uniforms, immediately grounding us in the dangerous underworld that Pinocchio's exploits threaten to take him to.Aa

Scenes featuring dancing marionettes, duets by intellectual looking headmasters, and jesters in white, flow in and out of poignant moments; sometimes vital, sometimes fluffy. This vacillation is in fact Cairo "Pinocchio's" greatest defining factor, and just as soon as we are impelled to a bit of boredom, Brevi's wonderful one dimensional puppets rise up out of the stage; or a giant fish head dropping from the ceiling, signaling the portal for a boatman's dance.Aa

Its flaws aside, the finale of "Pinocchio" is simply magical -- a cameo by dancer Iryna Prokopenko as the fairy gives a breath of sophistication as glitter falls from the ceiling and the dream of Pinocchio is realized. His is a story of classic inner achievement, put on jubilantly by its Cairo cast.Aa

Jeu d'echecs

For the second work of the evening, the company choice of "Jeu d'echecs" is a rather unconventional one. The company might have been a bit ambitious in this choice however, for although the work grounds itself in ballet vocabulary, it falters in its tone. Moving from the elating "Pinocchio" with its twists and shimmies, "Jeu d'echecs" dives quickly towards a poetic target, which unfortunately proves to be a bit elusive.

Beginning with a gorgeous tree on stage, designed oddly by the choreographer himself, the play adopts a somber tone, which remains for much of the performance. Unlike "Pinocchio," "Jeu d'echecs" is accompanied by an orchestra, who provides an elegant score in the face of Pinocchio's patchwork mix of Verdi and Nino Rota; music that ranges from the symphonic to the sultry.AaAa

The performance establishes its first theme with Puck and Perry, the white bloused duo, part poets, part fairies.Aa

Puck and Perry add more embellishment than necessary on parts that would have been elegantly played without so much gestural acting. The work then proceeds to cover some of Shakespeare's most famous plays, from "Romeo and Juliet" to "King Lear" and "Macbeth."

For the most part, the selected scenes of these plays are choreographed by Joseph Russilo with excessive drama and passion, yet, in doing so, Russilo drown his choreography in gestural acting.Aa In one scene, for example, Russilo shows his talent for upstaging himself by insisting that the cast of dancers perform their complex choreography while tossing a ball about.Aa While a couple engages in a romantic duet, the viewers' eyes are distracted by a beach ball scene in evening gowns that plays simultaneously.

Rossilo excels the most in the moments he focuses his efforts on the movement of the dancers, as in the beautifully executed "Romeo and Juliet," achingly danced by Mamdouh Hassan and Anja Ahcin. As the couple articulates their fated love, a rose blooms over and over again in slow motion on the video screen behind them.

Catch "Jeu d'echecs" and "Pinocchio" tonight, 8 pm, at the Cairo Opera House and on Feb. 17 and 18 at the Sayed Darwish Theater, Alexandria.

Daily NewsEgypt 2009

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Publication:Daily News Egypt (Egypt)
Date:Feb 12, 2009
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