There are moments in life when, if we are very lucky, we find ourselves in the presence of artistic brilliance of such a high order that the stunning result seems almost beyond comprehension. Such is the case with Houston Ballet’s current American premiere of choreographer David Bintley’s breathtaking dance masterpiece, ALADDIN. It is a triumph in both concept and execution thanks to the lush musical score of Carl Davis, dazzling scenic designs of Dick Bird, and gorgeous costume designs of Sue Blane. These perfectly realized elements, combined with the enchanting lighting designs of Mark Jonathan, and exquisite staging by Denis Bonner, have all come together to create an irresistibly magical world. It will ever remain as one of the most memorable performances I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
As the curtain rises on a cloudy night sky and crescent moon, the lovely music creates an atmosphere of mystery. We are transported to an ancient marketplace where street vendors ply their wares while surrounded by an array of beautiful rust-toned hanging fabrics and tapestries. A trio of young girls dance gently with water jugs on their heads as our mischievous Aladdin (Joseph Walsh) goes about the market playing pranks on the unsuspecting while assorted townsfolk offer a charming variety of quaint dances. Aladdin is suddenly approached by The Mahgrib (James Gotesky). This sinister magician seeks to acquire the powers of a magical lamp now hidden in a remote cave. With the promise of a lovely maiden as reward, he enlists the aid of Aladdin and we are suddenly transported to a mysterious underworld via an eerie entryway that looks like the ribcage of some long forgotten dinosaur. As the young boy searches amid the colorful ever-changing glow of the stalactites and stalagmites, the brilliant ensemble presents a series of enchanting dance sequences showcasing the costume glory that permeates the production. Each group (Desert Winds, Onyx & Pearls, Gold & Silver, Sapphire, Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds) is dressed exquisitely to reflect the jewel represented. The dancing is as stunning as the costumes, and the musical score is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. The mystical mid-air arrival of the genie, Djinn (Christopher Gray) convinces us there are still more wonders to come.
When Aladdin captures the power of the lamp and genie for himself he is able to escape the cave. Returning home he sees the royal procession of the Princess Badr al-Budur (Karina Gonzalez) and catches a forbidden glimpse of this daughter of the Sultan (Ian Casady). Instantly love struck, Aladdin uses the powers of the genie of the lamp to be transported to the palace bathhouse where young maidens attend to the bathing princess. The graceful delicacy of her gentle dances with the attendants continues the dreamlike magic. The slender and lithe Miss Gonzalez moves like a long and graceful blade of grass gently turning in the wind. She is grace personified, and the sensuous romance of her dancing with the brilliant and handsome Mr. Walsh seems the epitome of young love fully realized.
Scenes that follow in the palace throne room continue to elevate the stunning look of this shimmering jewel of dance, and the regal music might at times remind one of the best of Prokofiev’s score for the Cinderella ballet. Ensemble dance grandeur highlights the palace celebration of Aladdin’s betrothal to the Princess, and the amazing and fun-filled Lion Dance that is presented to bring good luck to the couple is an astonishing feat of unique dancing and creative costuming that could rival anything offered in The Lion King. It’s a reminder that children (those who can last for two and a half hours) would also love this eye-popping production. And that is not to mention the stunning Dragon Dance that would follow!
Many other wondrous adventures await you dear readers, even magical flights on a flying carpet as snowy egrets soar across a moonlit night sky. The technical joys of this ballet are nicely paired with the memorable music and dancing. If I know anything at all about performing arts excellence, this exquisite ballet is destined to become a classic in the tradition of The Nutcracker. It must be seen to be believed!
ALADDIN continues through March 2, 2014 at Houston’s Brown Theater in the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston. Remaining evening performances at 7:30pm are February 23rd, 28th and March 1st,while remaining 2pm matinees are February 22nd, 23rd and March 2nd. For tickets & information visit www.houstonballet.org or call (713) 227 ARTS or 1 800 828 ARTS.