Dance Review: ALADDIN (Houston Ballet at Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 23, 2014

in Dance,Theater-Chicago,Tours


In a welcome and overdue debut at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre this weekend, Houston Ballet offers only two performances of their sumptuous three-act ballet Aladdin, an Arabian night choreographed to an inch of its life by David Bintley. (Originally created for the New National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo in 2008, it premiered in London last year.) Reminiscent of the sprawling Technicolor escapist adventures of the 30s and 40s such as The Thief of Baghdad — with its eye-popping, pyrotechnics, lush Oriental backdrops, and athletic derring-do — as well as Disney’s animated version, the spectacle soars and swells to a very cinematic score by Carl Davis, performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic.

Heavier on show than tell, the story rightly focuses on the title hero, a street kid made good. Handsome and very game, Connor Walsh’s engaging market boy gets caught mocking authority in the bazaar. Aladdin becomes a cat’s-paw in a plot by the throne-craving villain Mahgrib (sinister James Gotesky) to trick the overgrown urchin into releasing the djinn of the Lamp (Christopher Gray, blue-toned in every way). But with help from the genial Genie, Aladdin uses the power of the lamp to amass a vast fortune from an enchanted cave with fiber-optic stalactites. Later, sneaking into her harem, he slyly wins the heart of the lovely Princess Badr al-Budur (effortlessly graceful and perilously thin Karina Gonzalez) and the consent of her father the Sultan (Ian Cassady in fine fettle).

Despite the Grand Vizier’s paltry attempts to expose this nouveau-riche suitor as the former beggar boy, the ballet mainly celebrates parvenu Aladdin’s unearned rise from the slums to the skies. Novelty numbers include a dragon dance, swirling movement by eight women comprising the Deserts Winds, and colorful combinations featuring the elegantly named ensemble groups: the Princess’s six attendants, the six Onyx and Pearls, four Gold and Silver, five Sapphires, three Emeralds, two Rubies, and Soo Youn Cho as the lone Diamond. (Even if the story is in the public domain, they needed to get mineral rights to pull this off.)

The only flaw in the fete is the length (over two and a half hours can wear out a welcome) and the protracted ending, a series of generous pas de deux and literal arabesques that repeatedly commemorate the wonderful wonder of the lovely love of Aladdin and his lean, lithe princess. Rightly or not, the audience thought it was over well before it was, treating the last dance as a curtain call — which it wasn’t.

Nothing gets short changed here, certainly not set designer Dick Bird’s pop-up picture-book depictions of the marketplace, secret cave, and the royal palace with its filigreed interiors and Moorish arches; Sue Blane’s award-winning, color-mad costumes; and Mark Jonathan’s storytelling lighting effects. Open sesame!

photos by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet
a co-production with Birmingham Royal Ballet
co-presented with Ravinia Festival
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
ends on March 23, 2014
for tickets, call 800.982.ARTS or visit Website
tour continues; for more info, visit Houston Ballet

for info on more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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