Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh enjoys a truly spectacular Christmas treat at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 31st December 2017
REVIEW: Aladdin at the Birmingham Royal Ballet
Culture Critic Beth Gordon-Taylor reviews Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of Aladdin
Seeing Aladdin transformed into a ballet was an experience I have to say I didn’t think I’d get to have on a cold night in October, just as the new term is starting to sink its teeth in. Once the lights went down, I was enveloped in warm tones of red and gold, shimmering jewels, and creeping mist, and came out wanting some of that old lamp magic for myself. For the most part, Aladdin is an awe-inspiring triumph, but for some small reasons that tempered my enjoyment.
The ballet opens with a market scene outside the palace, the backdrop being countless rugs of red and orange, and the stage slowly filling with the palace guards, women carrying pots, and merchants. Aladdin almost immediately assumes his dominance of the stage, accompanied by two friends, and this acts as the first dance of the ballet. It’s light-hearted and mischievous: with it they seem to welcome us warmly into their world. Aladdin’s comical nature is shown well enough by dancer Mathias Dingman, though this varies slightly in effectiveness at times, and this results in Aladdin’s mother often being funnier than Aladdin himself. I enjoyed watching her journey as her son’s fortunes changed—her outfit for Aladdin and Princess Badr al-Budur’s wedding is very cute.
“For the most part, Aladdin is an awe-inspiring triumph
Act 1 is the longest in Aladdin, but even if they were all the same length, it would probably still feel like it. Aladdin gets saved from the palace guards by the magician Mahgrib, who entices him to a cave in the desert where Mahgrib tells him to retrieve an old oil lamp. Aladdin is fascinated by this lamp and refuses to give it to Mahgrib before coming out of the cave, leading Mahgrib to angrily seal him inside. Aladdin discovers a chest of luxuriant jewels, which are represented by a sequence of dancers and keep him entertained during his captivity. One after the other, they come on stage to dance for Aladdin, while he seems very happy to have a sit down (even if it is on part of a gigantic animal skeleton acting as a staircase). The amazing creativity of the costumes was evident, and I liked the way the jewels they represented slowly became realised in my head as they danced. For those unfamiliar with ballet, that dance might seem overlong, but the display of ballet technique is clear. However, I did start to wish Aladdin would get up and get involved - these dancing jewels had (oddly) almost become main characters in their own right by the end of this scene.
The part of the first act that really retained its charm was the reveal of the genie. ‘The Djinn of the Lamp’ and his entourage were my favourite dancers throughout, with their entertaining choreography accompanied by jaunty, upbeat music. It served as a happy relief from the trials and tribulations of Aladdin, who at times I started to get a bit bored with. On a practical note, you subconsciously admire Tzu Chao Chou not only for his talent but for wearing that blue body paint, which must be a nightmare to remove!
One part of this show that I was specifically fond of was the symbolic simplicity of the apple that is exchanged between Aladdin and the Princess. Aladdin throws it to her during a parade, and when he later sneaks into the castle to see her, she still has it and throws it back to him to show, without words, her interest. Momoko Hirata is an impressive casting choice for the Princess, bringing her own remarkable beauty to the role. Because of her likability, Mahgrib’s forceful advances towards her in Act 3 made me squirm slightly more than I might have otherwise.
The show ends with all characters and ensembles joining on stage in celebration of the happy conclusion. Aside from the fact that I am no ballet expert, the skill of the dancers was indisputable—and this showed not only in their synchronised movements but in their faces. I couldn’t keep smiling for that long whilst navigating the stage with such control, but they did it.
“Aladdin was an entertaining show daubed with colour and sparkle
It was an entertaining show daubed with colour and sparkle, and a relatively easy watch compared to the average ballet. The characters were likeable, often amusing. Ultimately, it was the length of the cave dances, and a slightly uninspiring presentation of Aladdin’s character, that let the side down at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Aladdin. Though ambitious and enjoyable, it doesn't quite sparkle as much as Cinderella from the same company, which played at the Hippodrome in February this year.