Watch: Pokemon Ballet

One thing that fascinates me about anime culture is the heavy emphasis on music. Shows have so much music to pull from that Japanese theater companies are able to license titles for stage adaptations and use a lot of the original scoring. The opening and closing credits songs are radio-ready from the pilot episode and instantly recognizable for each series. The availability of the music does also lend itself to questionable uses of songs and show themes from an IPR standpoint. Case in point: the Pokemon Ballet. Choreographer Andrew Plotner staged an unlicensed Pokemon Ballet at Creighton University. The description does not specify if it was for a final, another class assignment, a club, or an actual performance for the public. There's clearly no ill intent in the work and the costumes and props suggest low budget student work. It's just that the parody defense only goes so far and violating IPR for educational venues doesn't always hold up as a defense. It's a risk that people choose to take when adapting this kind of subject matter without a license.

The Pokemon Ballet is a really interesting piece to dig into. Plotner combined elements of the Pokemon game series with the anime to create a unique and familiar story. The introduction is the Professor Oak speech from the third generation games, where you could first play as a female protagonist. Ash is able to choose Pikachu, a variant on being stuck with the only remaining Pokemon from the anime and manga, and battles the gym leaders in anime/manga order. The music is a mix of scoring from the anime and the game series.

You can tell in the first few minutes that not everyone in this cast is at the same skill level when it comes to ballet. The girls playing Pikachu, Nurse Joy, and the ghost Pokemon perform en pointe, while many of the other dancers are barefoot or even in sneakers for the choreography. With that said, Plotner's eye for staging the dances is strong and the cast is fully committed.

Pokemon Ballet Ash and PikachuThere are some really beautiful moments that go a long way to make Pokemon Ballet really enjoyable. Pikachu and Ash have a lovely coupling duet when they first leave Pallet Town that establishes their bond. Nurse Joy's big moment of reviving Pikachu after the thunderstorm is performed beautifully. Her extension and poise combined with Pikachu slowly copying the upper body movements as she recovers is quite lovely.

The ghost quartet is perhaps the strongest moment in the production. A veiled character follows Ash and Pikachu across the stage before collapsing on the floor. Three ghost Pokemon, presumably a mix of Haunters and Gangars, begin to circle the stage and each other en pointe. They surround the veiled character and bring her back to life. The whole thing has this great modern primitive style to it ala Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography for La Sacre du printemps.

The biggest drawback is the costuming. It's really inconsistent. Some characters--like Ash, Misty, and Team Rocket--are instantly recognizable while others--Pikachu, Charizard, Jigglypuff (?)--are barely suggested with color blocked dancewear. Student work or not, the integration of the games with the anime/manga made it so that instant identification of the characters was necessary to clearly tell the story. For example, I have no idea who the water Pokemon on Ash's team was so I don't understand why Pikachu was taunting it when it joined the team.

Pokemon Ballet Oak SpeechThe intentional slapstick moments--Team Rocket knocking out scientists, the giant Game Boy prop, the "Are you a boy or a girl?" Oak speech, etc.--missed the mark for me. It's a dance adaptation of Pokemon. We know it's inherently absurd. There were just a few moments that stepped too far outside of the story itself to maintain a consistent tone and build tension leading into the Elite 4 and the Champion battles. The best moments had a really sharp and dry wit because the performance took itself so seriously.

The shortcomings in the piece are minor considering this is first performance footage of a low budget ballet. It's very entertaining for what it is and shows that even something as ridiculous as Pokemon can be turned into engaging stagecraft. You can watch the entire 30 minute performance below.

What do you think? Sound off with your thoughts on the Pokemon Ballet below.

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