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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'Aladdin'

by Charlotte Kasner

March 20, 2013 -- London Coliseum, London, UK

The late, great Gene Roddenberry created a prop for “Star Trek” that had the initials “GNDN” on the side. The ever alert Trekkies contacted him and asked him what it stood for, knowing that he had a reputation for logic and engineering accuracy. “Goes nowhere, does nothing”, he replied.

That is rather the way that I feel about David Bintley’s Aladdin. It is not a story with which I can claim any familiarity, so the slate was completely clean. Whilst I didn’t expect profundity, I didn’t expect to be bored. It is a feast for the eye, if not for the ear. Sets and costumes are sumptuous. In fact, almost too much so, as the riot of colour is at the expense of the characters, making Aladdin quite hard to see at times.

From the multi-coloured strips of cloth filling the upper regions of the stage in the market to the glorious dancing lion and dragon puppet, it is a visual delight. Tutus are terrific, from the stark black and white plates to glittering rubies, emeralds and sapphires in harem pants and crop tops. The djinn of the lamp is dressed form head to toe in bright blue, including face and body paint. Two nights in a row, the latest LED technology has been to the fore, this time with Mark Jonathan’s superb stalactites and crystals that morph into new colours to match the dancing jewels. He also makes effective use of a gobo to create a sirocco and rotating sun, although the ubiquitous use of smoke with lighting made the market in ‘old China’ look like a foggy day by Gas Street basin.

What a pity then, that all this glittering delight was nowhere near matched by plot, acting, music or choreography. It was one of the most underplayed ballets that I have ever seen. Tzu-Chao Chou did his best as the djinn but was only given one really substantial solo that was so near the end that it was too late to excite any real interest. Aladdin never had a chance to make his mark and only the Mahgrib stood out, all swirling costume and nastiness.

The choreography rarely rises above serviceable. Nothing offends but nothing arouses either. There is plentiful use of arabesques (geddit?) and a nod towards 19th century formality but no great pas de deux or grand corps set pieces.

The worst aspect of the evening by far is Carl Davis’ dire score. The overture was a hideous, Disneyesque mash of blandness, heralding the ghastliness that was to follow. The rest of the evening delivered a pastiche of everything from Rimsky-Korsakov to Maoist songs. One felt for the orchestra and conductor.

“Aladdin” is quite like one of the old war horses of 19th-century ballet: silly plot, rumpty-tum music but lacking in cracking fireworks from the choreography that would make the bits in the middle bearable. Cut down and with more emphasis on the characters, it could be a seasonal treat. It is difficult to see, in its present incarnation, who would want to see it. There is very little to appeal to the ballet cognoscenti and even older children would struggle to sit through a very long two and a half hours with so little happening.

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