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A puppet passion takes flight

‘How to Train Your Dragon’ swoops into Times Union Center

“How to Train Your Dragon” features 23 full-scale dragons.

“How to Train Your Dragon” features 23 full-scale dragons.

Gavin Sainsbury started putting on puppet shows when he was just a kid. When he was 15, he landed his first paying gig at a theme park in Australia.

But all those years of puppeteering didn’t prepare him for the thrill he experienced when he first maneuvered one of the mammoth dinosaurs in “Walking with Dinosaurs,” an arena show featuring larger-than-life mechanical prehistorical animals. Taking control of something so gigantic blew Sainsbury away.

“I swore to myself that I would never forget that feeling,” he said.

Sainsbury doesn’t have to go back to that day to remember how he felt. He was hired to work on the “Walking with Dinosaurs” world tour, and these days he’s the head puppeteer for “How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,” which stops at the Times Union Center from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 4 to 7. Created by DreamWorks Animation, the show features more than 20 dragons, some with wingspans of up to 46 feet.

“It’s a very unique theatrical experience,” Sainsbury said. “It truly is an extravaganza.”

Based on the movie of the same name, the show tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. His life changes when he meets a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to look at the world differently.

Sainsbury said the show has several angles. It’s a coming of age story. It’s a story of the relationship between a boy and his father. It’s an underdog story.

“That touches the audience,” he said. “They’ve really responded.”

Of course, it’s not just the story that’s drawing a reaction from the crowd. The dragons are a sight to behold even when they’re not flying through the arena and breathing fire. Some weigh more than a ton, and they dwarf the actors on stage.

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