When Corinne Calamaro decided to make a ballet version of "Pinocchio" for the Laguna Beach-based Ballet Pacifica, she had to make sure that the dancer's nose could grow.
"The story has always been a favorite among children and so everybody knows that Pinocchio's nose grows if he tells a lie," Calamaro explained in a recent phone interview.
"So we had a special mask made. Actually, it's a half mask that goes from the nose up to the top of the head. You can see the mouth, and that's how we get the expression. And all the dancer has to do is touch the nose slightly and it grows."
In Calamaro's version--to be presented at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Festival of Arts Forum Theatre in Laguna Beach--Pinocchio's nose lengthens twice:
--at the very beginning when he blames Jiminy Cricket for the mess he's made in the puppet-maker Jeppetto's shop
--and near the end when he tries to shift the blame for playing hooky from school.
"But at the end he makes a good decision--to tell the truth," Calamaro said. "So the Blue Fairy comes to turn him from a live puppet into a real little boy."
The ballet lasts approximately 30 minutes; narrator Douglas Reed sets the scene and tells parts of the story, according to Calamaro. The story line generally follows the familiar Disney version:
Pinocchio, who has been turned into a live puppet by the Blue Fairy, sets out for school one day but gets sidetracked by a fox and a cat, who sell him to puppet-master Stromboli.
"Pinocchio ends up in Stromboli's puppet show where he really enjoys himself," Calamaro said. "But when he tries to go home afterward, Stromboli puts him in a cage. So Jiminy and Jeppetto have to come and rescue him."
To create "Pinocchio," Calamaro went back to the original story by Carlo Lorenzini, which was published in 1880 in an Italian children's magazine.
"But the original is quite complicated and goes into great detail," she said. "So I decided to go with the simplest version I could find so kids can look at the dancing and costumes and not have to follow the story so much."
Calamaro structured each dance to fit that story and compiled a musical score from many different sources "to match my ideas," she said. The result is a compiled score which includes music by Bizet, Johann Strauss and Mussorgsky, among other classical composers. (The accompaniment will be taped.)
She also created a distinct type of movement for each character:
"The Blue Fairy does very classical ballet movements, while Pinocchio's moves are those of an excited little boy, for instance. Jiminy Cricket is like a little gentleman; he dresses very well and passes judgment quite quickly. He's a good conscience."
While most of the major characters will be danced by Ballet Pacifica company members, the role of Jiminy Cricket will be danced by Charlotte Yen, 12. Two other children, Gina Crato, 13, and Kari Florence, 12, will dance the roles of little twin Tirolean puppets.
"Pinocchio" is Calamaro's second work created for the company's "Ballet for Children" series. Last year she choreographed "Ghouls and Goblins," which was danced under black light to create special effects. A native of Laguna Beach, Calamaro received her early training from Ballet Pacifica's artistic director Lila Zali. Calamaro has been with the company for 12 years and now holds the position of assistant to the director.
According to Zali, the children's series has grown so popular that she has had to add performances to the originally scheduled number.
"Partly the reason for that is from word of mouth, from people who have been our subscribers for several years and just tell others," Zali said. "And then lots of parents are just beginning to think it's nice to expose their children to one of the classical art forms.
"But the series is not really a moneymaker. Our whole idea is to make tickets low enough in price--$5 each--so that a whole family can come. And when you have 10 dancers on salary, that kind of ticket price can only pay for expenses." (The company's current budget is $200,000, according to Zali.)
Still, Zali is delighted to report that the company "hasn't had a single performance this year that didn't sell out. It's been our biggest season to date. So next year--which is our silver anniversary--we're going to go to four performances, instead of three, for each program on the series."