A new, full-length ballet is always a cause for celebration in this age of fiscal cutbacks, so I was excited that Birmingham Royal Ballet was bringing its production of Aladdin to London for all of us Big Smoke dwellers to see. Whee! What would David Bintley have on offer?
Well, one thing we did get was some awesome costumes and some really awesome sets. For me, the best part of the whole evening was when my favorite set (the magic cave, complete with color changing, glowing stalactites) met the greatest variety of costumes, producing the best set of dances … a new set of “Jewels,” as dancers representing the treasures of the Djinn swirled and capered around the open-jawed Aladdin (and then dropped a few gifts into his turban). My favorite was gold and silver, the men (William Bracewell and Tom Rogers) looking like incarnations of Louis XIV, the women (Yvette Knight and Yijing Zhang) with silver half-moons on their heads reminding me of Renaissance paintings of Artemis. I also enjoyed the exoticism of the Rubies duet (Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley) – it had a nice feel of many of the Arabian/Coffee sequences from The Nutcracker.
Also a pleasure to watch was Tzu-Chao Chou as The Djinn of the Lamp, a role which gave him, not just the opportunity to fly around with smoke in the air, but lots of opportunity for spins and leaps and general displays of virtuousity. I don’t mean to sound too shallow, but I am in serious admiration of the very flattering costume he was wearing – the cut of the legs fluttered nicely, adding to the sense of motion.
While the plotting of the ballet was good and did not descend into Panto silliness (Aladdin meets evil magician; Aladdin is taken to cave and locked in; Aladdin escapes with help of lamp, marries local princess; princess inadvertently trades old lamp for new and is kidnapped by magician; Aladdin uses his wits to set everything right, unless you are the evil magician; triumphal scene in palace), I found the thing felt a bit like a pastiche of dance as well as music, and lacked a unifying driving force to it. I do enjoy spectacle, and we got both a lion dance and a dragon dance, as well as great animated puppets (showing the princess, Djinn and evil magician in the sky), but I wanted something more. Would a strong score have made a difference? Is Bintley’s strength in choreographing shorter ballets? I couldn’t make up my mind at the end of the night where the fault lie. I enjoyed myself enough, but I wanted greatness, and this was not achieved.
(This review is for a performance that took place on the night of Thursday, March 21st, 2013. It continues at the London Coliseum through March 24th; bargain seats might be found on the day at the TKTS booth; I got stalls seats for £25!)