Aladdin Weaves A Magic Spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome

I think that even adults need the magic of fairy tales in their lives, and last night I was transported to the land of beautiful Princesses, handsome heroes and magic lamps when I attended the press preview of Aladdin by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

This production by David Bintley is an exquisite triumph, perfect entertainment for the whole family, with scenes that amuse, romantic sequences that charm, and an wholly engaging cast that keep you entertained throughout.

The story is kept thankfully familiar, Mathias Dingman is wonderful as Aladdin, playing the role as a likeable cheeky chappy who gets himself into troubles that almost cost him his head. He rescued by sinister Maghrib who sets him the task to find a magic lamp. This leads to a scene of sheer enchantment as Aladdin progresses through a truly beautiful cave, where the myriad of rubies, emeralds and sapphires are bought to life by a series of energetic dances, before Aladdin finally reaches the centre of the cave, and thus the lamp. The scenery in this particular section is stunning, I loved the stalagmites in a multitude of colours that echo the variety of gems in the cave.

The cave scene is a real favourite, bit there were many other sections to enjoy, not least of which was the wedding dance of the Chinese Dragon, resplendent in white and gold, and actually Aladdin’s friends (Kit Holder and Lachlan Monagham). And I loved the romance of the bathhouse scene, where Aladdin and the beautiful princess ( the always sublime Momoko Hirata) first meet properly and fall in love, their dancing is joyful and tender and is just lovely. In terms of the characterisations, The Maghrib (Iain Mackay)  is a suitably dark and devilish bad guy with plenty of swigger and presence, whilst the blue genie (Tzu-Chao Chou) is both magical and genial, and delights every time he appears. Aladdin’s mother, the legendary Marion Tait, brings forth the comic element, especially in the scene in the Chinese Laundry.

 

A mention must be made of the set, which is almost an extra character in this ballet. You really are transferred to a mysterious cave, a luxurious bathhouse, a magnificent palace and a house that doubles as a Chinese laundry, and set changes are quick and seamless.

This is just a perfect night out for the whole family, delighting the audience by old and young. A total feast for the eyes and for the ears, with the Carl Davis score illuminating each scene majestically, Aladdin shows that ballet can be funny, entertaining and touching in equal parts.

Aladdin

Birmingham Hippodrome

Wed 4 – Sat 7th October

Click here for ticket information.

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewed: Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme

The Autumn season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome began last night with the Penguin Cafe mixed programme, an eclectic collection of three short ballets headlined by the sublime ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe. The triple hander showed the diversity of ballet, from the Ragtime dancing of Elite Syncopations, to the Morris dancing of ‘Penguin Cafe’, right through to the paired back, beautiful simplicity of Concerto.

Concerto

A bare stage, plain rehearsal style costumes and the stirring music of Shostakovich, Concerto is a ballet that definitely has two moods. The first and third act are upbeat and lively, but it is the second act dance that stays in the memory, a lucid, sensuous pas de deux that, on this occasion, was performed to perfection by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton.

‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe

There is one word that perfectly sums up ‘Penguin Cafe’ and that is enchanting. But although the story raises smile after smile through the characterisation of the endangered species, it also has a series message about the conservation of these disappearing animals. The wonderful opening scene features the penguin of the title, in actual fact the know extinct The Great Auk, danced by the wonderful Ruth Brill in ‘Air A Danser’, this is an elegant dance that brings to mind 1930s tea dances, particularly with the bias cut evening gowns of the female dancers.

We then see the humour of the wonderfully loveable Texas Kangeroo Rat (Tzu-Chao Chou), struggling to get comfortable as he tries to sleep and delighting the audience with his incessant scratching. It is a fine performance by Tzu-Chao Chou, filled with warmth and funny moments. The scratching leads neatly to fantastically named Humboldt’s Hig-Nosed Skunk Flea, danced with light hearted finesse by Laura Day, and given exquisite, and hilarious support by five morris dancers, showing how ‘Penguin Cafe’ makes the surreal something really special.

But as light hearted as the early scenes are, there are darker moments to this ballet. Tyrone Singleton again sizzles as the Southern Cape Zebra, proud and strutting but hunted down, all the while surrounded by women in zebra striped dresses who seem to ignore what is happening.

Penguin Cafe is wonderful in that the music remains upbeat right until the end, which is oblique and open to interpretation. Is the storm that comes made up of acid rain? Is the final scene of animals on the ark an premonition of our future?

Elite Syncopations

Elite Syncopations is a delight, a ballet that also brings the Royal Ballet Sinfonia onto the stage and into costume. Using the music of Ragtime, notably that of Scott Joplin, Elite Syncopations is a one act composition, using a dance competition as the premise for showcasing a range of wonderful dance routines that both inspire and amuse.

The dance competition allows us to enjoy a range of soloists, dancing whilst the rest of the troop sit on stage and watch, almost like they are sizing up the competition. I loved the Stoptime Rag, with Jenna Roberts dancing the role almost like a drum majorette, complete with a costume that brings to mind the stars and stripes. The Alaskan Rag is hilarious, with the mismatched coupling of Yvette Knight and Tzu-Chao Chau bringing laughter to the theatre and showing just how funny ballet can be.

This is a bright and vibrant ballet, full of joyful moments, and yet at times it also brings to mind the dance floor desperation of ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, also centred around a dance competition, also taking place around the time Joplin’s ragtime music was in vogue.

The Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme is a brilliant way to enjoy a diverse and colourful range of ballets.

A triple bill with joyous dancing, ragtime music and animals sheltering from a storm!

Thu 28 – Sat 30 Sep, Click here for ticket information.

 

Three Short Ballets from the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Last night saw the opening of the second show of the Birmingham Royal Ballet summer season for 2017. This time audiences were in for a treat, as a triple header of three short ballets charmed, thrilled, amused and shocked in equal measure. The ballets performed were Arcadia, a new ballet from BRB alumni Ruth Brill, the classic haunting Le Baiser de la Fee’ and the Gilbert and Sullivan inspired ‘Pineapple Poll’. Each ballet was wonderful in its own way – three very different ballets in very different styles.

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Arcadia

Arcadia is the story of Pan, the god of Arcadia, and has a wonderfully earthy central performance from Brandon Lawrence. Visually striking, scenes like the nymphs dancing and ignoring Pan, where the dancers Brooke Ray, Yijing Zhang and Delia Matthews are silhouetted against a stunning Arcadian backdrop, are vivid and linger in the memory.  The stunning costumes in colours that echo the forest of Arcadia are also pivotal to the ballet.  The ballet is further enhanced by the soaring saxophone solo by John Harle which creates a score that is almost Gershwin in tone. Ruth Brill has really done a great job with creating a stunning tableau that has passion and emotion.

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Le Baiser De La Fee

Where Arcadia is a ballet filled with hope, the classic Le Baiser De La Fee is a haunting experience. A woman is lost in a  snow storm, trying to protect her baby, when she is ambushed by a fairy and her attendants. The woman tries to protect her baby, but the sprites take the child from her and the woman dies in the snow. The fairy kisses the child on his forehead but is then disturbed by villagers who find the child and his dead mother. Many years pass, and the child grows into a young man, in love with his soon to be bride. However, happiness is not to be there’s as the fairy returns to claim the young man. She tricks him into believing she is the bride by wearing the veil and he is horrified to find that he has been tricked, but is powerless to resist her charm and beauty.

This is a beautiful haunting ballet which truly transfers you to a world of snow and ice. There are lighter, exquisite moments, like when the lovely bride (Momoko Hirata who dances so prettily, an utterly charming performance) dances with her attendants in her wedding veil. This is a scene that is enchanting and lovely, such a contrast to the passionate, almost tortured scenes with the young man (Joseph Caley) and the Fairy (Jenna Roberts). Joseph Caley once again shows himself as a dancer who can express so many emotions from happiness to fear, passion and delight, a real leading man. Jenna Roberts is exquisite as the rather dangerous fairy, a glittering and glamorous presence.

This is a ballet that is filled with powerful moments, and the denouement, when the fairy has finally ensnared the young man, and his heartbroken fiancée is disconsolately searching for him, is as disconcerting a moment as you will find in a modern ballet.

Just beautiful in every way.

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Pineapple Poll

Pineapple Poll is a delight, a superbly funny piece of ballet in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.  The Birmingham Hippodrome stage was transformed into Portsmouth in the Victorian Era as the handsome Captain Belaye charms every woman he meets, including Poll, who sells her trinkets by the quayside. Captain Belaye has the same effect on other woman too, as Poll discovers when she stows away on his boat disguised as a sailor. All the other wives and girlfriends of the sailors have had the same idea and have also stowed away, leaving the Captain with a ship crewed entirely by women. Much hilarity ensures as the woman try to keep up their disguise whilst swooning over the dashing captain.

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Poll was danced wonderfully by Nao Sakuma, who showed a wonderful sense of comic timing, especially in the scene on board ship where she faints twice, first from the sound of the cannon, and then in a swoon for Captain Belaye. The captain is also wonderfully danced by Mathias Dingman, who plays the role with his tongue firmly in cheek, but dances a dream, particularly in the hornpipe inspired dance. Balaye’s fiancee Blanche (Laura Day) is also hilarious, playing the pretty, pampered princess like a wind up doll to brilliant effect, whilst Kit Holder as Jasper, the pot man in love with Poll, gives the ballet emotion in the scene where he believes Poll is drowned.

Pineapple Poll is such a lovely, funny experience, it leaves you with a wonderfully warm glow.

Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll & Arcadia.

Thu 22 – Sat 24 June

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