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Charleston Ballet brings 'Pinocchio' to life (video)

Chip Ellis
Rhiannon Turley as the fairy princess casts a spell on Pinocchio, granting the puppet's wish to become human. Brigette Madden portrays Pinocchio in the Charleston Ballet production.
WANT TO GO?"Pinocchio" world premierePresented by the Charleston BalletWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and SaturdayWHERE: Civic Center Little TheaterCOST: Adults $20, students and seniors $15 in advance; $5 more at door.INFO: Email or call 304-342-6541. Tickets also available at the Civic Center Box Office. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Composer and pianist Evan Mack regularly attended his nieces' annual ballet performances of  "The Nutcracker" with the Chattanooga Ballet, but he thought it was a shame to wait a year between ballet performances that children could enjoy.Two years ago, he decided to change that. He composed a ballet score set to the story of Pinocchio."I was looking for something fantastical like 'The Nutcracker' for ballets," he said. "I was looking for a story to explore that would expand families' opportunities to see ballet in a spring performance." The larger-than-life adventures of the wooden marionette that comes to life seemed the perfect story to draw children into the ballet, both as young performers and as audience members. The Charleston Ballet will stage the show's world premiere at the Civic Center Little Theater this weekend."The goal was to engage adults as well as to expose children to the many styles of music," Mack said. "They'll hear jazz, large classical music and even some higher end popular sound."The Charleston Ballet's performance of "Pinocchio" requires 13 scene and costume changes, but it could have been worse, says artistic director and program choreographer Kim Pauley, who read the book in preparation for the production."We're doing the highlights, not all the adventures," she noted.Mack's composition depicts the original book, not the sanitized Walt Disney version of the tale. As is the case with most children's books written in the 1800s, the story holds many lessons for children about making the right choices.
The consequences of poor decisions were a little harsher in the book than in Disney's version. For instance, in the book, Pinocchio actually squashes the cricket, which bears little resemblance to the cartoon Jiminy Cricket.
"Children's stories in the 1800s were less politically correct and palatable for children today. I just went with my gut," he said of his decisions about which adventures to include."Pinocchio" is the first ballet score Mack has written. He lives in Albany, N.Y., now, but lived in Charleston last year while his wife, a South Charleston native, completed a medical rotation with CAMC.He contacted Pauley to ask for her advice and suggestions on revisions to his first version of the score, which prompted her offer to choreograph and stage it for its premiere.The production's scenes -- danced by diverse characters such as marionettes, a fire-eater, a fox, cat and woodpecker, donkeys, children, a cricket and, of course, Pinocchio and Gepetto -- present choreography and costuming challenges.Pauley delved deeply into her special effects bag of tricks to create Pinocchio's famously growing nose. She won't divulge its secret.She's also introducing a new backdrop system to this production. Instead of raising and lowering traditional backdrops, her crew will use a large venue projector to change the scenes that appear on a single white screen.
Mack watched part of a rehearsal when he was in Charleston last month. Although the dancers were not in costume, he could easily discern the parts they were dancing."I was just blown away by the creativity and great dancing," he said. "The cricket fluttered en pointe, and I could immediately see that she was the cricket. When I see it with the costumes, it will be fantastic."The score was written for a full orchestra, but the premiere will be danced to a recording Mack made with a virtual orchestra using high-end software. The sound, he says, is nearly indistinguishable from a live orchestra.A concert pianist with masters and doctorate degrees in piano from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Mack composed his first piece, a musical, when he was 13 years old. Since then, he's composed symphonic, contemporary, choral and popular music."I am thrilled. I can't even express how exciting this is," he said. "Going from page to stage is a harrowing journey. It takes someone like Kim Pauley to make it happen. She's one of the gems that Charleston really needs to hold on to."The part of Pinocchio will be danced by Brigette Madden. Guest artist Ian Casady, principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, will create the role of the Fox. Rhiannon Turley will dance the Blue Fairy. Paul Shannon will play Geppetto and Nadia Bastron is the cricket.After the performance of "Pinocchio," Casady and Turley will perform the pas de duex from "Sleeping Beauty." "Dusk to Dawn," a contemporary work set to Celtic music, completes the program.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230.
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