Arabian Nights Took Over the Savannah Civic Center

In an arts culture splattered with one-upping shock art and vapid excuses for entertainment, ballet quietly pleases an aesthetic we thought gone for good within a rowdy world.  Ballet survives, even transcends its artistic expression, because it requires no technological advancements nor complicated doodads, simply the sweat and commitment of the spine and core.   


Savannah bore witness to this enduring artistic medium Saturday, February 20 when a magic carpet descended to the stage of the Savannah Civic Center.  The magician at play was Artistic and Executive Director of the Columbia City Ballet, William Starrett, and Saturday was his chance to show children and adults his gift for dance and choreography with Aladdin, performed by the enchanting South Carolina Ballet.


Mr. Starrett has lead the Columbia City Ballet for 29 years, and his refined technique as a dancer shows and translates incredibly well in his latest vision of this “Arabian Nights”-esque fantasy.  Savannah is the company’s fourth stop on their tour, and families with aspiring dancers as well as fans of the Disney film filled the theater.  Of all western narratives to be given the ballet treatment, Aladdin seems like a given, what with its lure of a exotic desert aura and abundance in “airy” elements such as the Genie, the magic carpet, and the veils of Jasmine and her Harem.


Conceived and choreographed by Mr. Starrett, Aladdin featured the music not of Alan Menken but Adolphe Adam, Leon Minkus, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  This composer trio, each man from France, Austria, and Russia respectively, created a medley perfectly matched to the leaps and sways specifically of the Grande Jetés and intertwining pas de deuxs between the merchants and gypsies.  


Starrett’s costumes looked like a dancer’s dream, with not a tutu spinning among the flocks of bikini-like tops and harem pants.  Aladdin, identified from his distinctive white trousers and purple vest, was enthusiastically animated by Christopher Miro’s fancy footwork.  Regina Willoughby wore out two pairs of slippers for her role as Jasmine, but, my goodness, the fruits of her performance were nothing short of spellbinding.  The Vizier did not have a wise-cracking bird peering from his shoulder though such an addition would have been impractical for a ballet anyway with even Camilo Herrera’s Vizier’s leg muscles and tour en l'airs.  Reinaldo Soto’s Genie bounded about the stage with all correct amounts of energy and zeal.


This adaptation delivered a much more straightforward plot simplified but compelling in part to the talented company.  One day during his regular marketplace antics, Aladdin catches a glimpse of the beautiful Princess Jasmine.  The evil Vizier sees Aladdin gazing at the Princess, and has him seized and left for dead in the desert.  Aladdin finds an ancient lamp while in his brief exile.  Upon rubbing the lamp, Aladdin meets the lamp’s Genie who grants him three wishes in exchange for the Genie’s freedom.  Aladdin is then suited up with couple treasure chests full of riches and a magic carpet at his beck and call.  He meets Jasmine after she bickers with her father, Chuck Archie’s Sultan, about the possibility of an arranged marriage to the Vizier.  The Princess and street urchin proceed to fall in love during an outing on his magic carpet, complicating the Jasmine’s feelings and the Vizier’s intentions.


The ballerinas and danseurs were poise, professional, and on pointe, literally.  The same wave of ensemble appeared in the masses for several larger segments, delighting with spectacular leaps and countless twirls enough to instill imitation from the younger members of the audience.  The large chorus moved with ease to Starrett’s intricate and revolving allegros and adagios, much like a sandstorm.  


Lighting and sound glitches never interrupted the plot flow.  Though not a word is spoken, the pure movement of the body marvels and intrigues interpretive grace, enough to keep even the youngest members of the audience engaged throughout the show’s nearly two-and-a-half hour run.  Two fifteen intermissions separated three acts, yet the performers, no matter their age or size, triumphed and produced a proper translations to Starrett’s rewarding approach to a beloved tale of forbidden love.