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F-M Ballet soars to new heights with folktale rendition of “Aladdin”

The ballet incorporates a Chinese dragon to help visualize the original folktale of ‘Aladdin.’ Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet 1 / 5
Corps de Ballet dancers as gemstones include, from left, Tegan Lancaster (Ruby), Camille Miller (Sapphire) and Sara Durham (Emerald). Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet 2 / 5
Emma Kulla and Mateo Leslie star as Jasmine and Aladdin in F-M Ballet’s production of ‘Aladdin.’ Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet3 / 5
Additional gemstone dancers include Dylan Johnson (onyx) and Sofia Astolfi (pearl). Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet 4 / 5
Though some aspects of the ballet are different than Disney's version of "Aladdin", it does still include magical lamp. Photo courtesy of the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet5 / 5

Fargo-Moorhead Ballet Artistic Director Matt Gasper enjoys changing expectations when it comes to productions by the local professional ballet company.

This is especially true of the F-M Ballet's performance of "Aladdin" Saturday and Sunday at the historic Fargo Theatre.

Most people associate "Aladdin" with the animated Disney movie about a street urchin whose life changes when he finds a magic lamp with a genie inside.

But F-M Ballet's rendition draws from the folktale "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" from a centuries-old collection of fables called "One Thousand and One Nights."

"Everybody that comes to this (production) is going to expect the Disney version, so I've tried to make things recognizable for the audience members who are expecting that while being true to the original story," Gasper says.

To create choreography for the show, Gasper researched the literature and learned that "Aladdin" was one of the "most famous pantomimes performed in the past," he says.

In the original story and the ballet, Aladdin is still an impoverished young man who finds a magic lamp with a wish-granting genie, becomes a prince, falls in love with a princess and fights an evil sorcerer (or, rather, a sorceress in F-M Ballet's production).

Gasper also found the original story takes place in China rather than the Middle East, which he incorporated into the ballet through props — like a Chinese dragon that symbolizes happiness and prosperity.

Gasper is confident the audience will get swept away by the magnitude of the production, which has 80 cast members, evocative music by Carl Davis and a magic carpet that "actually flies."

Gasper's favorite part, however, is the exquisite costumes F-M Ballet costume designer Suzanne Spiese made with authentic Pakistani fabric that a dancer brought to Fargo after visiting her relatives.

"The costumes are the visual candy of this ballet," he says. "There's going to be a lot of color, which is what we need with all of this snow."

Producing new shows is always a challenge for small ballet companies, but Gasper chose "Aladdin" last spring because he wanted to do a ballet that would get the community involved and feature F-M Ballet company dancers in lead roles — especially Mateo Leslie, who plays Aladdin.

"This community hasn't seen a male dancer of (Leslie's) caliber at such a young age," Gasper says. "He's phenomenal."

Emma Kulla, who starred as Clara in F-M Ballet's production of "The Classic Nutcracker," plays Jasmine. (A full cast list is available on fmballet.org.)

The show has a variety of dancers that range in age and level of dance experience, and Gasper is excited for the three-act production to come together.

He's also looking forward to how the audience reacts to the folktale rendition of "Aladdin," especially from people who are accustomed to the Disney story.

"I want to change expectations," he says. "Like any artist, I want people to be moved, have an opinion and feel something. That's what all art is. If I can let people have an emotional response, then I've done my job."

If You Go

What: F-M Ballet presents "Aladdin"

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 21; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22

Where: The Fargo Theatre

Tickets: $8-30 (tiered seating). Visit fmballet.org or call (701) 234-9440.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.

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