by Suzi Steffen
Ballet Fantastique has had quite a year.
“We’ve been kind of blown away by the audience response to our two premiers this year,” says co-director Hannah Bontrager. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in March sold out its three performances almost immediately – and Aladdin, which opens Friday, May 12, and has an unusual four performances during the weekend, is selling fast as well.
Hannah Bontrager, the group’s artistic director, laughed when, a week and a half before opening, she talked about the show. “People stop you in the grocery store when you’re doing a premiere and they say can’t wait to see how it will be,” she said.
But of course before a show, wherein the co-choreographer/producers and their band of dancers are striving to make the best show they can, and everything’s new and changing because of live music and new costumes and transferring to the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center, Bontrager said, “You say you also can’t wait to see how it comes together!”
This version of Aladdin, said artistic director Donna Marisa Bontrager, is different from the movie, the Broadway show, and the more popular forms of Aladdin in recent U.S. cultural memory. “We’re using the music of Queen from the ’70s and ’80s to tell the story,” she said. “That gives it a whole different feeling.”
That feel means something for the costumes too. “We’re using bright, vibrant colors, lime green and orange and fucshia,” Donna Marisa said, and they sent the costume designer a list of colors not to use – “No browns or bronzes or even dark gold, just really bright, over the top costumes, covered with jewelry.”
Hannah added, “There’s nothing understated in this ballet in terms of choreography or acting or costumes.”
The musicians, Satin Love Orchestra, always know how to accompany BFan’s dancers and accommodate the feel of a live performance.
“It feels like home for Ballet Fantastique,” Hannah Bontrager said. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was so different from anything we’d done before. Now we’re back to BFan’s signature romcom! It feels so good.”
Both Bontragers said that the dancers in the show get to show off their funny sides – “or if they’re going to be dramatic, it’s a sappy kind of dramatic,” Donna Marisa said.
“There are moments of goosebump-inducing beauty in the Jasmine/Aladdin pas de deux,” Hannah said, especially the one (of three) that’s set to Queen’s “You Take my Breath Away.”
Donna Marisa Bontrager added “In Act II, we have great pieces like ‘We Will Rock You’ for the parade for Prince Ali, and ‘We are the Champions,’ which is the big group dance with a lot of dancers on the stage.”
There’s nothing understated in this ballet in terms of choreography or acting or costumes. – Hannah Bontrager
The Bontragers said to watch for some stage magic with the scenery for the Cave of Wonders and for the big gold throne when Aladdin meets the Genie, when the ballet includes the music for “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
“It’s going to be really hard for the audience not to be singing and dancing along!” said Hannah Bontrager.
Dancer Amanda Coleman will dance Jasmine. “It’s her first title role, and she’s the perfect Jasmine,” Hannah said. Natanael Leal, who’s dancing Aladdin, “is just boundless energy,” Hannah said – “and cute, he’s got the cutest smile!” Donna Marisa added. She said, “He’s so flexible, and he does the nicest somersaults and floor work and lifts – he’s perfect for this part.”
Jafar, the advisor to the king and the villain of the show, is danced by Gustavo Ramirez, who was also new to BFan this year. “He’s a powerful presence, so it’s fun to see him doing this comedic role,” Hannah Bontrager said. “He’s a powerful and elegant dancer, but he’s also just hamming it up, and everyone is loving seeing him do this.”
The director-choreographer-producers added a fourth show of Aladdin on Sunday evening, and there are a very few tickets left for the other shows, so if you are planning to get tickets, do it soon – see below for the link.
As for next year, season tickets are now on sale for current subscribers, but the new season opens for all subscriptions during Aladdin.
“Next season is our most daring yet,” Hannah said. They both laugh and Donna Marisa says something in the background. Hannah says, “Donna says they all feel daring, like they couldn’t be any harder and then … ” (more wry laughter)
The 2017-2018 season includes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (“masochistally, our third world premiere in a row,” Hannah said), the return of American Christmas Carol, Zorro, and Alice in Wonderland.
Aladdin: A Rock Opera Ballet
7:30 pm Friday, May 12-Sunday, May 14; 2:30 pm Sunday, May 14
Soreng Theater, Hult Center
Tickets $28-$58.50 (plus fees) online and at 541-582-6000