“But it isn’t Christmas,” was the response when I mentioned Birmingham Royal Ballet’s shiny new production of Aladdin.
Indeed not: the company is aiming to create a spring audience for festive family ballet with David Bintley’s confident fairytale staging. It’s a lavish production with bright dancing, though it doesn’t match the heart of this company’s Nutcracker or Cinderella.
Bintley created Aladdin for the National Ballet of Japan in 2008, with revised designs for this UK premiere. The story moves briskly from the bazaar to the cave of jewels to the royal palace. Dick Bird’s sets get more handsome as the evening goes on, from a functional marketplace to the delicate Arabian traceries of his bathhouse and palace settings. A huge bony staircase leads down into the cave of jewels, suggesting a whale’s skeleton.
The leading characters – Aladdin, his princess, the Djinn of the Lamp – are drawn in clear, simple lines and classical steps. César Morales is a brisk, elegant Aladdin, more at home with the character’s yearning than his mischief. At her first sight of him, Nao Sakuma’s Princess is interested, flirty and shy all at once. Her dancing is light and airy.
Rather than conjuring a towering Djinn, Bintley’s lamp produces a speedy virtuoso dancer, dyed bright blue. Tzu-Chao Chou makes a triumphant first entrance, bobbing midair at the top of a pillar of smoke, before whizzing through a firework display of leaps and turns. The production’s magic scenes are fun, with a satisfying magic carpet ride.
Carl Davis’ score, originally written for Scottish Ballet, has cinematic sweep and touches of Ravel, with lots of scope for dancing. In the desert cave, the jewels step out as dancers. Bintley’s polished setpieces could be more individual, but he shows off his company’s strength and range.
Natasha Oughtred is a rippling, water-sprite Sapphire, with Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley winding through sinuous partnering as Rubies. Céline Gittens makes a splendidly glamorous Diamond. There’s an appealing courtly dance for gold and silver. Sue Blane’s costumes are very glitzy, with far too much much gold lamé. Her court dresses are better, with gauzy frocks and harem pants for the princess.
There’s more dancing at Aladdin’s wedding, with some appealing character detail. The hero’s bossy mother, an assertive Marion Tait, rejoices outright. Princess’s father, Jonathan Payn, weeps sentimentally into his silk handkerchief. There’s also a delightful Chinese lion dance. Wrapped in a silky, fringed costume, James Barton and Mathias Dingman make an acrobatic lion, jumping up on its hind legs to kick its fluffy forepaws in the air.
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