Pointless Theatre brings puppets to ballet-dancing life in ‘Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet’

April 16

Pointless Theatre’s production of “Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet” stars, from left, Robert Manzo, David Lloyd Olson, Rachel Menyuk, Ruth Watkins, Madeline Key, Devin Mahoney, Scott Whalen and a bunch of ballet-dancing puppets. (Gene Carl Feldman)

Gwyneth Paltrow would be a dream to work with compared to the actress who stars as Princess Aurora in Pointless Theatre’s take on the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale. She never speaks a word to the rest of the cast, and requires three people by her side at all times for support.

That’s because Aurora isn’t an actress — she’s a puppet.

A whimsical version of Tchaikovsky’s 1890 ballet, “Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet” stars eight actors and an assortment of dancing puppets, three of which require the aid of three human operators to move around onstage.

Although Pointless Theatre almost always uses puppets in its shows, making them dance was no easy feat.

“It was a huge challenge getting the puppets to spin,” says Matt Reckeweg, co-creator/co-director of the ballet, now playing at Flashpoint’s Mead Theatre Lab.

“It was also difficult to build puppets that bend like ballerinas,” adds Patti Kalil, the show’s other creator/director.

True to ballet form, there’s no talking, and the human cast members also dance — in full ballet getup — while controlling the puppets.

For this show, first staged at Capital Fringe in 2010, the troupe brought in a special puppet choreographer to adapt aspects of Marius Petipa’s original 19th-century choreography.

The puppet choreographer also gave the troupe advice on designing puppets able to execute the necessary dance moves. They needed to have swiveling hips so they could lift their legs up in all directions and their feet needed to be able to dance both on and off their toes.

Pointless Theatre company members always collaborate on the design and construction of their puppets. In fact, the group was brought together by their love of puppetry in 2009, while still students at the University of Maryland, College Park. The company’s members are variously puppeteers, actors, artists, musicians, writers and dancers.

The tight-knit performers have learned to trust each other over the years. During “Sleeping Beauty,” Pointless often has eight people scrunched on the small stage, so they kind of have to.

“There’s a certain precision to how we perform,” Reckeweg says. “The discipline and focus we have to have on stage is similar to ballet. Part of the fun is figuring out who goes where in order to avoid possible collisions.”

At least Aurora won’t be able to complain if anything goes awry — which is more than we can say for most prima donnas.

Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW; through May 3, various times, $20–$25; 202-315-1305. (Gallery Place)

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Marc Silver · April 16