February 22nd 2013
“Three wishes, to be exact. And ixnay on the wishing for more wishes. That’s all. Three. Uno, dos, tres. No substitutions, exchanges, or refunds.”
Genie, Aladdin, Disney Movie (1992)
As part of our season tickets to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet, we were able to see the UK premiere of David Bintley’s Aladdin. We had both seen Disney’s Aladdin as children, but we hadn’t read any other adaptations of this tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. While Disney’s Aladdin is very much for children, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of Aladdin is definitely not for children. We think you will understand why by the end of this review.
The Mahgrib, a magician who is the Emperor’s chief advisor, persuades Aladdin to retrieve a lamp from a cave. Aladdin is uncertain about retrieving the lamp, but the Mahgrib uses a mixture of hypnosis and a promise that cave also contains riches that will allow Aladdin to win the beautiful woman in a vision the Mahgrib creates. Aladdin enters the cave and finds that it is indeed filled with all kinds of jewels and precious stones. Once Aladdin has found the lamp, he returns to the cave entrance and asks the Mahgrib to help him out. The Mahgrib demands Aladdin gives him the lamp first, however. Aladdin refuses and the Mahgrib traps Aladdin in the cave. After three days and nights sitting in darkness Aladdin lights the lamp and a genie appears, granting him three wishes. Aladdin uses one wish to leave the cave and he pursues the Princess. Will he win the woman in the Mahgrib’s vision’s (the Princess, daughter of the Emperor) hand in marriage? What will the Mahgrib do when he sees Aladdin has escaped with the lamp?
Some of the scenes for Aladdin were really impressive and others fell flat. The market scene in Act I, for example, was colourful and there were lots of detail on the market stalls. Whereas the scene where Aladdin and the Princess are living at the palace in Act III, was much less impressive. It consisted of a bed in the centre of the stage and based on the ballet dancer’s actions, the room was meant to be high up. In comparison to other ballet performances that we have seen, they could have done much more with the scenery here. There were also scenes that kind of fell in the middle of these two extremes. For example, the cave scene in Act I had some great elements, but was still fairly minimalistic. We think part of this comes down to the number of scene changes. There were at least twice as many scene changes as in other ballet performances. This meant the curtain would drop down during the acts (usually, the scenes are changed during the intermissions). While this could have been boring, this was actually rather entertaining. The curtain that came down represented a night sky and they had two little birds flap across the curtain. These were real props (i.e., not video projections) and they were hilarious. It sounds odd to think of two flying birds on wires as hilarious, but they had the whole audience in fits. Later in the ballet, they even had mini props that represented Aladdin and the Princess on the magic carpet, along with the flapping birds of course.
As with the scenes, the costumes weren’t consistent. Some of the costumes were really impressive, but others were less so. For example, the evil Mahgrib’s costumes were amazing. He wore colorful robes with elaborate hats and extensive makeup. While he couldn’t dance much, he did flip his robes around majestically. The genie’s costume had so much potential. One of the reasons we wanted to see this ballet so much was the genie’s costume. The posters looked absolutely brilliant. The costume on stage, however, wasn’t as good. The blue body paint didn’t hold well and it was rather patchy. Plus, the hair piece that made the genie look bold wasn’t as well done as it was in the poster. The clothes themselves were good because they were floaty and brought an extra dynamic to his ballet. However, the other male ballet dancers also wore the same trousers, and when they danced with the female ballet dancers, the trousers looked odd. It made the male ballet dancers’ bums and legs look huge (the men’s trousers had an extra bit of elastic just below the knee that caused this effect).
As we said at the beginning of this review, this isn’t a ballet for children. There were some scenes that were a little awkward, even for us. For example, Aladdin sneaks into the baths to see the Princess. Aladdin is definitely not a child so he knows that there will be naked women in there. He watches the Princess as she is bathed and perfumed by her attendants. To make matters worse, he sneaks around, cropping up in different places on the stage as the Princess dances in her bath robe. The most awkward scene occurred in act III, towards the end of the ballet. The Mahgrib has kidnapped the Princess and plans to make her a new member of his harem. The Princess dances in an effort to seduce the Mahgrib. Frances really didn’t like this scene. It was obvious that the Mahgrib liked the Princess and what else he wanted. We didn’t like watching the Princess play along because of how the Mahgrib reacted. It could have been toned down.
Final Verdict: Not one of our favourite ballets, but worth seeing once in your lifetime.