Review by Jennifer Noyer
The choreography of Natalie Harris, artistic director of the New Mexico Ballet Company, infused the company’s presentation of the story of Aladdin’s adventures with a magic lamp. It includes a troupe of dancers of many ages and backgrounds, similar to the many casts for regional “Nutcracker” ballet performances. Presented at UNM’s Popejoy Hall on March 17 and 18, this exotic tale of Aladdin was a glittering production with lavish costumes and imaginative set designs and special effects. The sets were primarily projections of artwork on the back scrim, enlivened with sparkling stars and petals that flowed over the surfaces. Like its predecessor, choreographed by David Bintley for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2017, the NMBC’s “Aladdin” was an exciting performance for the entire family.
The New Mexico Philharmonic accompanied Harris’ choreography with music from “Scheherazade,” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Conducted by David Felberg, the philharmonic effortlessly moved from tumultuous explosions of sound to the luscious melody of the love theme played by a solo violin.
The ballet was presented in three acts, and projection of the plot action depended, as in so many fairy stories, on magic. The boy Aladdin, danced by Robbie Rodriguez, steals the lamp in Act I, where he also sees the Princess Jasmine, danced by Amanda Rohr, in the Market Place. Aladdin is captured and taken to the palace.
The scene changes to introduce Jasmine with two friends in a beautifully danced trio. Rohr moves in intertwining shapes with Tracy Ritter-Golson and Kelly Ruggiero as Dalia and Fatima, respectively. When Jasmine sees Aladdin, dancing with a smooth and strong dramatic attack, the violin introduces the love theme. They begin a duet, but are interrupted.
There is a confrontation between Aladdin and Jafar, the Counselor to the Sultan, danced by Sean Dahlberg. Here Jafar is identified as the villain of the piece. Jafar’s movements includes widespread stances and sweeping arm gestures of power as he takes Aladdin to a prison cell. Another prisoner, an old man, tells Aladdin how to escape and flee to a cave with fabulous riches and magic powers.
Act II is in the Cave of Wonders, and here we see a great projection of a cave, evocative of our own New Mexican caverns. This is the most visually stimulating act of the entire ballet with seventeen Golden Idols dancing in jeweled, gold costumes to represent the cave’s treasures. The forms and patterns of the golden ladies in choreography nicely designed by Harris, except perhaps for the New York styled Rockettes line of high- kicking legs. An Egyptian gestural motif was utilized frequently by Harris where the body is turned in profile, arms extended with bent elbows and flexed hands fore and aft. The shape is easily recognizable from Egyptian tomb art. This motif works with the Arabian theme, but was perhaps a bit over used.
A marvelous female Genie, danced by Natalia Harrison, entered the scene here, bringing some stunning acrobatic flips and delightfully witty dance interactions that continued to steal the show right through to the final wedding scene in Act III. Harrison shimmied and leaped around all the characters, enchantingly flicking her hands. And she threw a full- fledged movement tantrum to get her own way as Aladdin balked as she transformed him into a stylish prince.
There were many fine, partnered duets throughout Act III, with lifts and dramatic catches as women flowed into the arms of suitors, holding shapes in the air with a sharp and pure sense of line. The wedding filled the stage with lines of dancers and the multiple characters of the ballet.
A large, rather curious Chinese dragon surged over the heads of both Aladdin and Jafar, symbolizing the evil to be destroyed. Harrison performed the wedding with little quirks and jerks of her shoulders, obviously not too comfortable with the role of cleric. Again, her wonderful comic sense delighted the audience. This show was a lovely vision for both adults and children. The dancers proved extremely aware of the tight musical intricacies, and the music itself was beautifully performed by the orchestra. It was a joy to have live music with dance.