It is hard to know quite what to make of David Bintley’s three-act Aladdin which Birmingham Royal Ballet has brought to London for this week. It was made for the National Ballet of Japan five years ago, its score by Carl Davis. The scenery and costumes are, respectively, by Dick Bird and Sue Blane, and any blame-laying and snook-cocking that may ensue in this commentary must not be laid at their doors (if that is what one does with blame and snooks).
The piece is shown to us with a certain Bakst-ian verve in design: we see that luxe and volupté we hope for in matters of Arabian Nights glamour and bejewelled navels, and all, as Kenny Everett insisted, in the best possible taste. But, Oh Lord!, the score. Predictable might seem an understatement when qualifying the surging predictabilities, the Ketelby-ish melodies, offered by Carl Davis’s muse. David Bintley, flooding the stage with dances that tell the tale, offers us a theatrical machine no more unlikely than those grand spectacular ballets beloved of 19th-century audiences in St Petersburg, Milan and Paris, and one as well furnished with stage illusion and hallowed tricks and local colour.
So there they all are: Aladdin (well taken by the resourceful César Morales); his un-engaging princess; his Dear Old Mother with her doctorate in vivacity; an evil, if unexplained, villain; a blue-faced Djinn from a lamp; and a catalogue of sub-Scheherazade characters who should hie themselves to the nearest harem, and calm down. There are also lion-dancers, cohorts of eager minions, a dragon dance, an infestation of danseuses under the misguided impression that they are jewels, fine lighting from Mark Jonathan, and the extremely difficult-to-take and determined sound of the orchestra under Paul Murphy – to whom my sympathies.
What I saw was ballet mired in witless narrative, a show that will satisfy audiences in undemanding Yuletide mood and well adjusted to the seasonal trappings of a family outing with the kiddies for the Feast of Saint Cliché, a none-too-inspiring display of academic dancing more than usually un-nuanced, and a gesture from ballet as an art of our time – not waving but drowning.