BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's ALADDIN is an Opulent and Mesmerizing Treat

Ballet: ALADDIN. Choreographer: David Bintley.
Dancer(s): Karina Gonzalez and Joseph Walsh.
Photo: Amitava Sarkar.

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.

Ballet: ALADDIN. Choreographer: David Bintley.
Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.
Photo: Amitava Sarkar.

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.

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