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Magical sets and music on tour
While the new musical of Aladdin may be going down a storm in London's West End, this ballet version of the Arabian tale is making a return.
The Djinn of the Lamp in action
Renowned choreographer David Bintley created the production for the National Ballet of Japan in 2008 before a UK premiere by Birmingham Royal Ballet back in 2013.
Four years later and Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) is releasing the genie from the lamp once again. I caught the full-length ballet of Aladdin at Birmingham Hippodrome, where it stays from October 3 to 7. The show continues on tour to Theatre Royal Plymouth from October 25 to 28 and Sadler's Wells in London from October 31 to November 2.
It's a glamorous, sparkling affair that has a movie feel about it from the opening scenes. That's not just due to the impressive, huge grandiose sets, special effects and costumes but mainly because the soundtrack of the show was created by film composer Carl Davis.
This is the man after all who won a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music for the score for The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981 along with writing TV theme music for the BBC's Pride and Prejudice series, The World At War and The Naked Civil Servant. He's used that expertise to create a memorable score for Aladdin that has the sweeping adventurous overtones of an action film.
Grand sets in Aladdin the ballet
Following the Arabian Tales storyline - made infamous by Christmas pantos and the Disney film - this ballet keeps a suitably light- hearted tone with plenty of laughs as our rascal hero causes a stir in the marketplace, steals apples and has the bravado to woo a princess and gain the power of the magic lamp.
Excellent Mathias Dingman is a sprightly Aladdin who is well cast with Momoko Hirata as Princess Badr-al-Budur. They are exquisite together in their joyful pas-du-deux routines, which are more athletic and uplifting than achingly romantic - but that fits into this fast-paced adventure.
And what a frantic adventure it is, transporting the audience into an ancient Arabian world of palaces, steamy bathhouses and caves full of dancing jewels and a whale bone staircase. It's all set amid a skyline of turrets where even a magic flying carpet floats before your eyes. The sets by Dick Bird are sublime and have to be seen to be believed.
The visual spectacle is further enhanced by Middle Eastern-inspired dreamy costumes designed by Sue Blane, that also includes an electric blue Djinn of the Lamp who floats above the stage.
Tzu-Chao Chou gets his moment to shine as the Djinn, leaping and spinning around the stage, but as in most cases, it's the baddie that overshadows the proceedings. Principal dancer Iain Mackay takes a refreshing turn in the character-driven role of the evil Mahgrib. He is a real presence on stage, but more so for his acting than dancing on this occasion.
Iain Mackay is a presence on stage as evil Mahgrib
Choreographer Bintley, who was also behind BRB's award-winning Cinderella and Hobson's Choice productions, has created an epic show with Aladdin, although there are some moments that are a little off kilter.
Although the Arabian world is spot on, overflowing with Moorish architecture, a strange Chinese element is randomly thrown into the mix at various points. There's a Chinese Lion Dance and costume that inexplicably appears at a wedding celebration in what seems to be an error over the continents. I also wasn't too sure about the characterisation of the women in burkas at the lair of evil Mahgrib.
That said, Aladdin is a superb ballet and a fantastic spectacle. There's dreamy dance sequences, stunning sets and a magical musical score that will put a spell on you.