Friday, 1 March 2013

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Aladdin

The Lowry, Manchester, 28 Feb 2013

It is not every day that a new ballet is premièred.  Between the end of February and the beginning of March 2013 there will have been two:
I hope to see The Great Gatsby in Leeds on 7 March 2013 and I shall review it as soon as possible afterwards. Yesterday evening I saw Aladdin at the Lowry in Salford, near Manchester.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the world's great ballet companies.  Founded by Ninette de Valois the company was and remains the Royal Ballet touring troupe.   It adopted its present name in 1990 when it moved from Sadlers Wells to the Birmingham Hippodrome.   It is directed by David Bintley who choreographed Aladdin.

Aladdin is one of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights which are rarely read to children nowadays. Most of us in the United Kingdom will have been taken to a pantomime by the name of Aladdin which is about as far removed from the original story as a value burger is from a cow.   I remember being taken to The London Paladium or some other West End theatre in the late 1950s or early 1960s where the principal characters - Aladdin, Widow Twankey (his mother) and Wishee Washee (his brother) -ran a Chinese laundry. There was very little of that in Bintley's work.   It was far closer to Andrew Lang's compilation which was to be expected given the production's funding from the Houston Ballet Foundation and its original creation for the National Ballet of Japan.

Having said that there were certainly members of last night's audience who thought they were at a pantomime which manifested itself in an initial booing of Iain Mackay who danced The Mahgrib (or wicked magician) magnificently though those boos were quickly transformed into well deserved applause. More annoying, there was an intolerable level of coming and going, shuffling in the seats, unwrapping of sweets and even illicit photography  which required more than a little concentration to blot out.

Fortunately, the brilliance of the work did blot out those distractions.   Bird's sets and Blane's costumes were captivating.  You can get some idea of that brilliance from the Creating Aladdin website - the hustle and bustle of a Chinese street, the stalactites and stalagmites of the cave that glowed in different colours as the scene progressed, Aladdin's home, the Sultan's palace, Aladdin's castle after his marriage to the Princess Badr and Morocco.

However, it is the choreography, music and the artistry of the dancers that generate magic for audiences and for me and my companion it all worked wonderfully.   Having developed my love of ballet while Frederick Ashton was the Royal Ballet's choreographer I am very hard to please.   But pleased I was.   The pas de deux that Bintley created for Aladdin and the Princess danced yesterday by Jamie Bond and Jenna Roberts reminded me a lot of Ashton.   So did the powerful roles for the djinn (Matthias Dingman), Mahgrib and Sultan (Rory Mackay).   Also, the sweet role for Aladdin's mother danced delightfully by Marion Tait - no Widow Twankey she.   Other lovely touches - and very familiar to Manchester with our famous Chinese quarter - were the lion and dragon dances.   It is probably unfair to single out any of the other dancers because all excelled but I was impressed particularly by Céline Gittens who danced Diamond.   Finally, Davis's score with its oriental allusions was perfect for Bintley's choreography.

This show will stay at The Lowry until tomorrow after which it will move to Plymouth, Sunderland and the Coliseum.   If you are near any of those venues - or even if you are not - you should try to see this work.   I think it will become an audience favourite along with the 19th century classics which very few modern works do.

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