BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's ALADDIN is an Opulent and Mesmerizing Treat
Last night, Houston Ballet presented the American Premiere performance of David Bintley's spellbinding ALADDIN. The ballet, commissioned by National Ballet of Japan, had its World Premiere on November 15, 2008 at the New National Theatre in Tokyo, Japan. For this opulent and mesmerizing theatrical treat, choreographer David Bintley pulls his inspiration from the original story; however, his ballet stills delivers everything fans of the 1992 Disney film expect from the story.
David Bintley's ALADDIN takes place in Arabia; however, the characters of Aladdin and Aladdin's mother are immigrants from China. In choosing to set the scenario this way, David Bintley is able to add some unexpected but appreciated worldly colors to his production that ensure audiences have never seen a production of ALADDIN quite like this. The story is familiar though and is easy enough to follow.
In Japan, only the dancers that perform in the production are paid, so David Bintley ensured that the piece used the entire company of 65 dancers plus apprentices. Often, the stage is filled with people, and because of this he is able to create stirring, beautiful, and fully staged pictures that offer the audience many details to take in. He utilizes choreographic choices that keep the dancers reaching upwards, even when they are positioned low to the floor, giving the show an animated and energetic quality in the performance. Everything, even the villainous Mahgrib is danced with a light air, keeping the production from becoming too dark and foreboding. In essence, David Bintley relies on the dancer's ability to tell the story with their bodies and movements to convey the darker elements of the plot, making certain that this ballet will vastly entertain the young and old alike.
David Bintley has perfectly paired his choreography with the whimsical score by Carl Davis. From the orchestra pit, Ermanno Florio conducts the show with passion, guaranteeing that the music, like the dancing on stage, is lively, captivating, and sumptuously performed. As a former French Horn player, I also couldn't help but notice how generously Carl Davis featured the instrument in his score and how incredibly James Wilson, Gavin Reed, Sarah Cranston, and Kevin McIntyre played their parts. Moreover, the score truly features the wind instruments and string instruments in ways that, like this take on the Aladdin story, is familiar but still inventive and fascinating. Not to discredit or take away from any of the incredible work that occurs on the stage, but this enthralling score is worth coming to ALADDIN for all on its own.
Leading last night's magical performance was Joseph Walsh as Aladdin and Karina Gonzalez as Princess Badr al-Budur. As Aladdin, Joseph Walsh charms and beguiles the audience with his youthful spirit and energy, which is perfectly showcased in his athletic agility and sweeping movements. He leaps, tucks, rolls, and dances with the ease, confidence, and resilience of the young. Opposite him, Karina Gonzalez's Princess is danced with grace, undeniable beauty, and precision. Making her first appearance in a vision created by the Mahgrib, the audience is enchanted by her, and when she returns to the stage at the end of the first act, like Aladdin, we all instantly fall in love with her. In the second and third acts, the delicate beauty of her dances move us and we look forward to each impressive lyrical moment, whether it is stunning pointe work or polished and refined romantic movements.
As the Djinn (Genie) of the Lamp, Christopher Gray explodes on the stage with indefatigable energy and enthusiasm. His acrobatic dancing and combustive, quick movements have him filling the stage all on his own. The nimbleness required to perform his frenetic dances is just mind-blowing, as he jumps, leaps, twists, and turns across the stage.
As Aladdin's Friends, Rhodes Elliott and Oliver Halkowich amused the audience with high-energy comedic antics in the first act. In the second act, they do a fascinating Lion Dance, impressing the audience with their tandem dancing and their own acrobatic dexterity.
Other standout moments from last night's performance include the elegant dance done by the women playing the Desert Winds, all the different character dances performed as Aladdin sees the different gems and treasures in the cave, and the rousing Dragon Dance. In the cave sequence, Sara Webb's coy dancing as the lead Sapphire, Aaron Robison's virile and verdant dance as the lead Emerald, and Melody Mennite and Linnar Looris' sensual dance as the Rubies were my favorites.
Dick Bird's Scenic Design for the ballet is simply breathtaking. Fanciful and large set pieces are used to showcase Arabia and create a brilliant disparity between the world of Arabia and the interior of the cave. Most impressively, the reveal of the incredible cave set earned gasps, applause, and cheers from last night's audience. Dick Bird's work is complex, ornate, and dazzling, which allows it to highlight the magic qualities of this production.
Costume Design by Sue Blane is luxuriously colorful and perfectly tailored to ensure that the audience easily gets a sense of each character. Moreover, her designs compliment the choreography, ensuring that movements and characterizations chosen by David Bintley are highlighted and not hindered by her design choices.
Mark Jonathan's Lighting Design seems simplistic to the eye, but it is incredibly complex. It allows for all of the visual effects to occur without the audience noticing the ways that Denis Bonner's Staging of the ballet is tricking our eyes. Instead, we are swept away by the illusions. Mark Jonathan also masterfully color codes the cues within the cave to represent the different jewels and treasures.
When it comes to presenting world-class ballet at its finest, Houston Ballet is consistently at the top of the game. This lavish and altogether opulent production of David Bintley's ALADDIN is no exception. The performance easily delivers everything audiences could want and so much more. Visually it is magnificent, utilizing brilliant and endearing choreography, incredible dancers, and well-executed illusions to purposefully and pristinely entertain and delight audiences. Even if you're not a fan of ballet, I imagine you'll love Houston Ballet's ALADDIN!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions.
ALADDIN, produced by Houston Ballet, plays the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue, Houston 77002 now through March 2, 2014. Performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Friday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m. Following the six remain performances in Houston, the Houston Ballet production will tour to Chicago and perform at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University from March 22-23, 2014. For more information and tickets to the Houston performances please visit http://houstonballet.org or call (800) 828-2787. For tickets to the Chicago performances, please visit http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org or call (800) 982-ARTS (2787).