In my role as a Social Mover with Sadler’s Wells, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of wonderful dance performances over the past couple of months. On 1st November, I had the opportunity to go and watch Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Aladdin. I’ve never seen Aladdin, and I’ve also never watched Birmingham Royal Ballet perform, so I was very much looking forward to what was in store. I also brought along my other half, who has never been to the ballet before.
We were very lucky to have fantastic seats for this performance, sixth row and towards the centre, so we had a really good view of the dancing. The ballet opened with a bustling marketplace scene, and we get our first glimpse of Aladdin, energetically portrayed by César Morales. From early on in the first act, there were a number of unfortunate mishaps- I noticed two moments where props were dropped by the merchants milling about the stage. Also, during the first stage combat scene between Aladdin and a guard, Morales was struck with the sword which created an audible smack and intake of breath! However, much to their credit, the cast continued without showing any sign of anything having gone wrong. Shortly afterwards we are introduced to the evil Mahgrib, the wonderfully wicked Tyrone Singleton.
The first act seemed very long, and was confusing in places. However I did especially enjoy the cave of riches, once I understood what was going on, in which groups of dancers come forwards and perform divertissements in the guises of various precious treasures. I was especially taken with Delia Mathews who outshone the other soloists as a Sapphire and provided all of the physique goals I ever wanted! There were moments during this section when the timing of the dancing was noticeably off- it almost seemed as if the orchestra might have been playing faster than the dancers were used to rehearsing. A dancer also knocked one of the magnificent stalactites hanging over the stage, which created a surprisingly dramatic and long-lasting swinging!
Aladdin discovers the lamp and returns home to his mother, who is played by Jade Heusen with the most fantastic comic flair. Soon after, we get our first glimpse of Princess Badr al-Budur who is perfectly embodied by Jenna Roberts.
Act II begins with Aladdin creeping on the princess taking a bath, and then he is caught and dragged away. He is sentenced to death, but his mother pleads for his life. The Djinn of the Lamp (Aitor Galende) appears and showers riches down upon Aladdin, who is now deemed worthy and marries the Princess. Here the cast more than make up for the mishaps in the first act with a vibrant dance in perfect unison, which my other half especially enjoyed. Then what I thought was a Chinese dragon appeared, which was very confusing (turns out it was meant to be a ‘Lion dance’), but it was cleverly done, the two dancers in the costume did a wonderful job.
In the third act, Aladdin and the princess are at home when the princess is tricked and kidnapped by the Mahgrib. To make a long story short, Aladdin dresses up as a woman and sneaks into the Mahgrib’s harem, rescues the princess, frees the slave of the lamp and they fly off on a magic carpet with some truly wonderful stage trickery.
Overall, I’d say that this ballet and this performance weren’t perfect. Yes, there were a few errors made in the beginning, but they were handled well, and the cast pulled it together and turned it into a strong performance by the end. I do have questions about whether this ballet has been presented with enough cultural sensitivity. I think that as this is a fairytale story, the ballet can just about get away with this level of Orientalism, however I’d love to see a version created with an edge of realism, or at least a more culturally sensitive approach, and definitely a more ethnically diverse cast. The storyline is a little confusing but the strength of the acting meant that the characterisations remained very clear. It was pantomime-y but I think that is a significant part of its charm.
The dancing was beautiful overall; Aitor Galende made an excellent Slave of the Lamp, and Morales and Roberts were a truly enchanting leading couple. I thought it a slightly odd pairing- Morales seemed a little short to be partnering Roberts- but they pulled it off beautifully. The costumes and sets were also an absolute highlight of this piece. The sets especially were striking and just modern enough.
I think that this ballet is ideal for people who enjoy a fairytale, three-act ballet, but want something a little different that isn’t part of the typical ballet repertoire. It’s also ideal for families, and ballet newcomers, as long as you have a programme handy!
I hope that I don’t seem overly critical of this work- I certainly feel that there were were some flaws in this particular performance, and that the ballet as a whole could be more culturally sensitive, however when it came down to it I thoroughly enjoyed watching and had a wonderful evening.