In its presentation of "Aladdin," Ballet Theatre of Maryland has again shown that stories gain enchantment when told through dance. Artistic director Dianna Cuatto and her dancers found large, enthusiastic audiences in three inspired performances last weekend.
The "Aladdin" story drew excitement and exoticism from the dancers in costumes designed by Alyssa Johnson performing against sets designed by Cuatto and built by Brian Walker, Calder Taylor, Meagan Helman and other dancers. Integral to the show's appeal was the choice of music by 19th-century Russian composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov ("Scheherazade") and Aleksandr Borodin ("Prince Igor").
Cuatto thoroughly researched the "Aladdin" story, a tale from an ancient time of sorcery and prophecy. The fates of the sultan and his daughter, Princess Samira, were ordained, as was the destiny of "everyman" hero Aladdin. Aided by the sorceress Morgianna and the genie Djinn, Aladdin blocks the evil wizard Jamal's quest to gain control of the sultan's kingdom, winning the hand of Samira in the process.
The desert night of the Prologue introduces Morgianna, (Valerie Walker), the genie Mordecai (Taylor), and Jamal (Brian Walker). In daylight, a marketplace reveals the thief Aladdin (Joshua Burnham). He saves an old woman who turns out to be the sorceress and is rewarded with the ring of prophecy.
At a reflecting pool, Aladdin sees Princess Samira (Meagan Helman) and instantly falls in love with her. Aladdin and Samira become acquainted before Jamal recognizes Aladdin as the chosen one with the ring. Aladdin is cast into a dungeon by Jamal, who sends Calia (Erica Wong) to seduce him. At her bidding, he travels to the Cave of Hidden Treasures to retrieve the Lamp of Wonders, and manages to keep it with the help of Mordecai Genie. Mordecai Genie also helps him leave the cave and return to the sultan's palace as a royal suitor to Samira.
Princess Samira celebrates her 16th birthday by entertaining a number of suitors bringing gifts. She rejects Jamal and her next suitor, Prince Faris of Turkestan (Django Allegretti). Prince Aladdar (Aladdin disguised) dances with Samira, who soon recognizes him as they go off together and declare their love.
There are duels, wizardry and fierce battles before enchanted swords and magic carpets are provided by Morgianna to help Aladdin destroy Jamal.
BTM dancers reached new heights in "Aladdin" in this start of the 2011-2012 season. Joshua Burnham dazzled as Aladdin, excelling in dueling, executing astonishing leaps and rapid spins. His dancing with Helman was tender and exciting in completing complex, three-stage lifts.
Helman was exquisite, athletic and free-spirited while revealing an exotic sensuality to define the role of Samira, who longs for freedom and true love. Valerie Walker projected assured grace and power as Morgianna. Brian Walker excelled as Jamal, vigorous in his dynamic swordplay while projecting a menacing, sustained strength.
Always the consummate actor/dancer, Taylor again commanded every scene as the magical Mordecai Genie, Djinn of the Lamp. Wong combined sinuous grace with flawless technique and superb athleticism, revealed in her speedily scaling the uppermost dungeon bars.
Alden Taylor delivered a vigorous portrayal of Asim the Defender and Sultan Shrayal Schruk. Dancing three roles, Django Allegretti became Haldor, Sa'id the Betrayer and Prince Faris. Kathryn Carlson excelled as both the Oracle and Firuzah, Samira's handmaiden. Nicole Kelsch danced the role of another handmaiden, Aminah.
All dancers cast as harem maidens, cobras and vipers, weavers of the magic carpet, thieves, street urchins, and street entertainers contributed to the magic of BTM's "Aladdin" production.
The prolonged standing ovation following Saturday's performance was deserved and signaled the beginning of another extraordinary BTM season of dance.