Philippa Bougeard looks at how Jasmin Vardimon Company has re-worked this classic children’s tale from its 19th century Italian roots, presenting it to us in a highly engaging dance fantasy…

Next month at Worthing Theatres we will watch spellbound as a troupe of deft, lively and creative dancers take to the stage in a new and promisingly brilliant adaptation of the fairytale, Pinocchio. Jasmin Vardimon Company’s dance theatre production is closely based on the original story, penned nearly 150 years ago by the Italian author Carlo Collodi.

Vardimon, a world-renowned artistic director, award-winning choreographer, and Sadler's Wells Associate Artist, has an immersive style made distinctive by the twists and turns of the movement, music and dialogue. The experience provided through performance, individually given by members of Vardimon’s talented company, is a real treat for the senses: highly imaginative, yet believable. Her productions tell a story: they look back on a retrospective of her works, and it feels like delving into a well-thumbed book. There is always recognisable narrative, guided by a theme or placed in a familiar setting, whilst juxtaposed by a deeper undercurrent of meaning. This latest production of Pinocchio is no exception. But the challenge is in the director’s interpretation of this classic children’s story. How has Jasmin Vardimon staged Pinocchio as a theatrical fantasy?

In 1940, Walt Disney produced the first animated version of Pinocchio and it proved to be a huge commercial success, not largely for the Disney brand. Disney based his cheerful little wooden puppet- brought to life by the angelic Blue Fairy and whose magical journey to become a Real Boy is blighted by the pitfalls of being human- on Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. Characters such as Jiminy Cricket, Gepetto and the Blue Fairy have become iconic as a result of Disney’s masterpiece. It is, however, a little known fact that the adapted animation differs greatly from the original story by Collodi, which turns out to be a much darker tale.

Before it became a book, Pinocchio was first published in instalments in an Italian children’s magazine in 1881. Collodi, who would one day become one of Italy’s most famous children’s writers, initially did not relish his puppet boy character’s association with the puckish, childish adventures typically featuring in boyhood literature. In the Walt Disney version, the Pinocchio that we all know and love is a hapless guy, comically tripping up over his misfortunes when he does not follow his guiding conscience; an equally endearing yet stern voice in the plausible form of a miniature cartoon (‘Jiminy’) cricket.

The very worst thing that Disney’s Pinocchio conceives to do is give into temptation. This causes him to skip school and be led away by two wayward fellows, a fox and a cat, and he is then plunged into a disorientating world where boys who misbehave have their noses grow, get turned into donkeys, and are swallowed by whales. It is true, that Walt Disney whitewashed Collodi's original tale as he believed it would be too frightening for children. Disney made the tale take a detour when, instead of being hung from the branches of an oak tree by the fox and the cat, left to die, the Pinocchio in the animated version is spat out by a whale and reunited with his devoted father Gepetto. Having been truthful and demonstrated bravery, and above all, listened to his conscience, he is rewarded, his wish granted, and he is transformed into a Real Boy by the Blue Fairy.

Collodi’s story is altogether more sinister. Although he describes Pinocchio as a ‘rascal’, a ‘ragamuffin’, and a ‘wretched boy!’ by his father Geppetto, Collodi’s character is so evidently bad, that it is no wonder Collodi had him punished countless times, eventually killing him off at the end of the newspapers’ instalments. It was only due to the outrage of readers that Collodi hastily reinstated the character of Pinocchio in a book which was published several years later in Italy. The Adventures of Pinocchio subsequently became one of the most widely translated stories ever written. The moral of the story, as Collodi evidently aimed to instil in the minds of his young readers, is that if you behave badly and do not obey your elders, you will be bound, tortured and killed. The Disney version is slightly more simplistic: if you are brave and truthful, and if you listen to your conscience, you will be rewarded.

It will be intriguing to witness to what extent Jasmin Vardimon permits this twisted tale to unfurl before us on stage. Speaking frankly about the influence of the story Pinocchio, Vardimon said: ‘I find unique curiosity in re-discovering this original 1883 classic tale. Going back to the original Collodi’s novel allows us to critically examine the assumptions of ourselves and others about what it means to be human.’ Personally, I can’t wait to see how the company will do this.

I hope you can join me and the team on 15 November at the Pavilion Theatre to see this stunning show with us.

See you there!