Assembly Rooms, Tamworth
June 26, 2015
Think ballet on stage and what tends to come mind are the major companies and big theatres. Yet, it’s not all like that. There are a number of small ensembles who set out to take ballet to places the big boys won’t or quite simply can’t go. All aim to be family friendly and accessible. Some do this by churning out a non-stop diet of three or four all very traditional classics, but some seek to be a tad more innovative, creating their own new ballets.
One such is Ballet Theatre UK, founded by Artistic Director Christopher Moore just seven years ago, and based in unfashionable Hinckley in Leicestershire. Indeed, a more unlikely base for a ballet company it’s hard to imagine. Moore creates the company’s works, taking inspiration from classical dance and theatre. Yes, there’s a Swan Lake and a Nutcracker, but there’s also an Alice in Wonderland, a Little Mermaid and more.
BTUK’s Aladdin is a traditional telling of the young scamp who gets tricked by a Maghrebi sorcerer, later finding himself in a cave full of jewels and other treasures. Thanks to a couple of genies, he manages to escape and marry a princess.
Aladdin can be a tricky story to tell. It has far more detail than most people realise, but in a wise move, Moore opts to keep the story to those basic well-known elements. Despite the often fast-pace of the storytelling, what’s happening is pretty much always clear – just as well as unfortunately there is no theatre programme (not even a cast list and brief synopsis) to explain anything.
Set against a desert backdrop, the busy opening Arabian market place is a riot of colour, full of life and local characters including a dancer with a snake draped round her neck and along her arms, and a couple of sword swallowers. The ensemble dances are cheery and playful, although the postage-stamp of a stage meant that things looked cramped at times, even after Moore had cut them down a little. Pedro Santos, recently arrived from Cuba, was not entirely convincing as a ne’er do well, jack the lad Aladdin; it was all just a bit too earnest. David Brewer was an excellent, if not exactly evil, sorcerer who tempted Aladdin with jewels.
The cave presents a problem, simply because it doesn’t look or feel like a cave. It’s not dark enough, and that desert backdrop remains. The focus here is on the dancing though, and the dances for the different jewels are enjoyable with everyone getting their moment in the spotlight. Santos looked much more at home; and Moore’s decision to make much of the female genie or Slave of the Ring – nicely danced by Charlotte Eades – allows for pas de deux where you wouldn’t expect them.
Aladdin may be an adventure, but deep down it’s really a love story, something that was never quite conveyed. A little more affection between Santos and Claire Corruble-Cabot’s Princess would have been nice, although it was difficult to fault them in the sometimes difficult grand pas de deux including a couple of tricky lifts, where they barely put a foot wrong.
The audience lapped it up, applauding at every opportunity. And why not, although technical limitations are occasionally visible, the dancers do a good job of bringing the tale to life despite the fact they were clearly having to rein themselves in at times save they finish up in the front row. On a bigger stage, with more room to express themselves, I suspect the ballet looks much better.
Musically, the collage of excerpts from various composers works surprisingly well, with the joins rarely too obvious. There was definitely some Glazunov in there, and I think some Rimsky-Korsakov.
Moore’s Aladdin is not on the scale of a certain production just down the road in Birmingham, but BTUK does not have the resources of its grander, much larger cousins, and you can’t expect it to be. But it is an easy on the eye, easy to understand introduction the artform, and Moore is taking ballet to places it doesn’t usually go. And for all that he should be congratulated.
This autumn, BTUK will be touring The Snow Queen, before revealing a new production of Pinocchio next March.