Stunning new look for an old tale

Pantomime horses will never be the same again . . . the lion dance is just theatrical magic. Pictures: Roy Smiljanic

Aladdin

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

SUMPTUOUS sets, rich costumes, sweeping music and some glorious dancing – what more could you ask for.

The arrival premiere of David Bintley's Aladdin heralding its arrival into Birmingham Royal Ballet's repertoire adds another jewel into an already glittering crown.

It is already a well known and loved story which to most people involves Widow Twanky and look out behind you panto but the tale is much older and much darker, with Aladdin perhaps the best known of the Middle Eastern folk tales from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Bintley's venture into the Arabian Nights, premiered by the National Ballet of Japan in 2008, is full of colour, narrative and humour as we follow the familiar tale of our impoverished hero and his love for a princess, with a magic lamp and an evil magician battling between the two.

Chilean dancer César Morales brings not only humour but a vibrancy to the role of Aladdin and does seem to have that gift of flight when he dances. He has two pas de deux with Nao Sakuma which are just a delight and a couple of lifts make your arms ache just watching.

Ambra Vallo and Tyrone Singleton in the dance of the Rubies

Their dance in the splendid set of the royal bath house is perhaps the best of the evening.

Nao, as Princess Badr-al-Budur, which apparently means Full Moon of Full Moons, seems to get better and better. She just makes it all look so easy with  dancing which is just beautiful and graceful to watch. Combine that with no mean acting ability and a sense of fun and you get the feeling she could dance to the Nokia mobile ringtone and make it interesting.

Iain Mackay as The Mahgrib, the evil Berber magician, added a little panto gusto to his evilness . . . oh yes he did . . . all flamboyant sweeps of cloak and exaggerated gestures to let everyone know here was a baddie of some stature.

Mind you the old Princess Full Moons of Full Moons should be ashamed of herself for changing Aladdin's large, glow in the dark, shiny gold lamp for the titchy, dull silver tat the Mahgrib was offering in his new lamps for old scam. Props could at least give the baddie something flashy enough to tempt a princess.  

Still there is no accounting for taste so she still swapped it which led to her capture by the evil one. The Mahgrib's dance with the Princess with Aladdin, disguised as one of his harem of burkha clad beauties, trying to slip a Micky Finn into his goblet of Moroccan merlot, or whatever, is a comic highlight.

Another runner in the comedy stakes is BRB's resident scene stealer Marion Tait, the assistant director, who manages to make the part of Aladdin's mother punch well above its weight with little gestures and actions to add to the fun..

Tzu-Chao Chou is a dramatic Djinn of the lamp, genie for the pantophiles, who richly deserved the enthusiastic applause for his athletic dancing.

Meanwhile back at the story, Aladdin is first taken by the Maghrib to the desert where we come across the delectable desert winds in an Arabian dance before Aladdin's incarceration in the cave after being sent in there to retrieve the lamp.

Nao Sakuma as Princess Badr-al-budur and Cesar Morales as Aladdin. Picture: Richard Battye

There he is surrounded with wealth beyond even the dreams of Croesus producing a series of dances of the jewels with Onyx and Pearls, Gold and Silver, Sapphire, Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds with the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave changing colour to match the gems. Too many star names to mention in a jewel box of shining dances, each different and each exquisite.

Once the old Mahgrib has had his comeuppance and everyone is set to live happily ever after at the Royal Palace we get the celebrations with first the Lion Dance which if Calsberg did pantomime horses . . . it would struggle to be better than Birmingham Royal Ballet's .  . .  probably be the best pantomime horse in the world. James Barton and Mathias Dingman are just fabulous as the prancing , dancing Chinese lion while a later dragon dance is equally remarkable for its complexity.

This is a ballet with a familiar story from years of panto brought to life in a new, innovative way by David Bintley all aided by some clever sets from Dick Bird opening with a cloth of brooding clouds and that magical lamp. We even get a set of flying ducks . . . geese . . . swans . . . white birds giving an animated ducks on the wall background,  and a genuine flying carpet carrying a rather nervous looking Aladdin and Princess.

We had a cave with an entrance high in the sky with a whale skeleton entrance while the royal bath house with its domed roof and running taps was simply stunning.

That was also down to Mark Jonathan's excellent lighting while Sue Blane's costumes added to the colour and extravagance of a marvellous production.

Carl Davis's music gave us another element. This might have been a night of Eastern promise by the opening theme had a hint of one of those great westerns of the 50s and 60s about it – which is no criticism I might add.

This is a flowing, at times soaring score, cinematic as much as balletic, which is no bad thing as the music is part of the story to drive the narrative along.

There is perhaps more rich, melodic brass and less strings than ballet audiences are used to which adds yet another dimension to the performance and, as usual, Paul Murphy and the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia make sure every note counts.

Incidentally, Aladdin was not in the original  Book of One Thousand and One Nights when it was translated from Arabic by Frenchman Antoine Galland, he added it later, in 1710,  after hearing the tale from a Syrian storyteller.

Now the story has been wonderfully told again by Birmingham Royal Ballet and is as fresh as ever. To 23-02-13

Roger Clarke

Aladdin alone in the cave with just his lamp to keep him warm

And  from the back of the cave

*****

WORLD class choreographer David Bintley has triumphed again with this brilliant ballet which he originally created in 2008 for the National Ballet of Japan.

Now it's the BRB's turn to perform the UK premiere, and the story which has been a pantomime favourite for decades is, with a few subtle twists, transformed into a dance classic.

Here young Aladdin is a local tearaway who is rescued from armed palace guards in a Chinese market by the evil magician Mahgrib (Iain Mackay), who plans to use him to pluck the magic lamp from a deep, dark cave.    But our hero, played with a perfect mix of mischievousness and skill by Cesar Morales, triumphs in the end with the help of the Djinn (Genie) and wins the hand of the beautiful Princess Badr-al-Budur.

Nao Sakuma, the princess, dances superbly with Morales, and there is an impressive performance from Tzu-Chao Chou as the Djinn whose appearances - sometimes airborne - are accompanied by the expected large puff of smoke. But the big scene arrives when Aladdin and his princess fly serenely to safety through clouds on a magic carpet.

Earlier Aladdin discovers a fantastic hoard of jewels, gold and silver in the cave which sets the scene for the exquisitely costumed cast to represent the glittering gems in a series of superb dances, none better than the rubies (Ambra Vallo and Tyrone Singleton).

The closest link between this remarkable ballet and pantoland comes in the amusing interventions of Marion Tait as Aladdin's mother, while dances featuring two men in a Chinese lion costume, and later the traditional dragon dance, are a visual delight.

Nor should the contribution of the legendary Carl Davis be overlooked. His music is simply perfect for the story, and is delivered with the usual quality by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy who, along with Bintley, joined the cast for a well deserved bow at the close of a ballet which earned cheers on opening night.    To 23.02.13

Paul Marston 

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