As a boy growing up in Japan, Isao Matsuura loved skating and enjoyed the competition. But mostly, it was about the skating.
"I was always training and competing in the nationals, but what I really wanted to do was skate professionally," said Matsuura, who has played Pinnochio for Disney on Ice for nearly two decades now. "I enjoy skating for myself, but an ice show is completely different than competition. I can skate for somebody else, and entertain those people and bring a smile to their face. That's what I really love."
Pinocchio, Snow White and several other lovable characters will be at the Times Union Center for seven shows over four days as Disney On Ice returns to Albany. The first performance is tonight at 7.
Matsuura, who grew up in Okayama, Japan, had a career-best runner-up showing at the Japan Nationals, but that was some time ago. He has been performing as Pinocchio since 1999, and hasn't lost any enthusiasm for his role.
"It is not getting old at all," said Matsuura. "I love the character. I don't know if I would know what to do if I stopped. But I also love the traveling. It's great fun and very exciting to travel around the world and see all the different places that I do."
Matsuura says he remains physically able to handle the athletic requirements that come with the job of playing Pinocchio.
"I have to ask my body how it does it, but I haven't got any injuries," he said. "I have to maintain myself. My knees are still fine and as long as my body is still good to go, I can see myself doing it for another couple of years."
Like many Japanese youngsters, baseball came first for Matsuura.
"I started [skating] late, not until I was 10, because I was always playing baseball," he said. "Usually, people start when they're 4 or 5. But I tried skating one day and I really liked it."
Disney on Ice was created in 1987, 12 years before Matsuura joined the group. The show continues to tour the world throughout the year, usually with a two-month break.
"I think people come to the see the show because there are so many lovable characters," said Matsuura. "We have people from the classic stories, like Pinocchio and Snow White, and then there are characters from modern movies, like 'Frozen.' There's something for everybody, any age. I know when I'm not on the ice myself, I love looking out and watching all the skaters in their beautiful costumes and all that wonderful lighting we use."
When Matsuura isn't on tour, he's back in his hometown of Okayama.
"My home is the world, but on break I do go back to my hometown and and coach little kids, and do a lot of choreography," he said. "Skating has become pretty popular in Okayama."
Walt Disney came up with his version of Pinocchio in 1940, based on the character created by Italian writer Carlo Collod in 1881. Disney's 1940 animated film "Pinocchio" told the story of a wooden puppet brought to life by a blue fairy. Pinocchio's efforts to become a real boy bring him into crazy encounters with a variety of questionable characters.
A simple morality tale that teaches children the benefits of hard work and middle-class values, "Pinocchio" was the first animated feature to win a competitive Academy Award, claiming Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Disney on Ice
WHERE: Times Union Center, Albany
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday; and noon and 4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $78-$18
MORE INFO: www.timesunioncenter-albany.com