Very few fairy tales pose the challenges to staging that The Little Mermaid does, and I must confess I was rather confused as to how a story partially set underwater where the protagonist has a fish’s tail instead of legs would work as a ballet. However, I was wrong to worry as what I watched was a complex, creative and visually stunning piece that captivated the whole audience throughout.
“Truly looked as though he were drifting through the waves”
The ballet retells Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of The Little Mermaid in which a young mermaid, in this ballet named Marilla played by the talented Abigail Prudames, trades her voice for legs in pursuit of her love, Prince Adair. However, this path proves far more painful than she anticipated and, diverging greatly from the Disney film of the same name (the version of the tale I’m sure most of the audience were aware of), it all takes a tragic turn.
The ethereal nature of the ballet dancing itself, brilliantly choreographed and directed by David Nixon OBE, lent itself seamlessly to the underwater scenes where, coupled with the floaty chiffon dresses also designed by Nixon, you could almost imagine you really were underwater (especially when the giant jellyfish came out, which truly was a spectacle). This movement worked particularly well in the scene where Joseph Taylor’s Prince Adair was underwater, and it truly looked as though he were drifting through the waves. Similarly, the movements of Evelina and Erina, Marilla’s sisters portrayed by Ayami Miyata and Miki Akuta, looked incredibly realistic as they appeared to swim through the air which showcased the dancers’ immense strength and grace.
This grace was continued into the costume design of the mermaids, whose tails were a train to their dresses. Despite this gracefulness and the cleverness of the illusion that the dancers had no legs, the length of the dress did occasionally get in the way and, on the night that I saw it, unfortunately led to a small almost unnoticeable slip as the fabric got caught underneath one of the dancer’s feet.
“Not only impressive but contemporary and visually exciting”
Sally Beamish’s new score for the piece was beautiful and eerie, and the Celtic themes that she is so fond of were not only present in the music but also continued in the men’s costumes of plain and leather kilts.
A good set can be the key to creating a ballet that is not only impressive but contemporary and visually exciting, and Kimie Nakano’s grand and constantly changing set managed this excellently. The way that the huge rising pieces of mottled mirror that had previously shown the sea moved and became an enormously grand ship was breath-taking and showed a great deal of thought about how two pieces of set could be used to create multiple different settings. The only moment that I thought this brilliance slipped was in the inclusion of two chairs for one scene which felt unnecessary, clumsy, and broke up the sleekness of the set.
“I would highly recommend this beautifully haunting piece”
Alongside the set, Tim Mitchell’s lighting was used to great effect to subtly but clearly indicate whether the scene was taking place in or out of water.
As the world premiere tour of this new ballet I believe that it has the potential to enter the core canon of ballets. Whether you have never seen a ballet before or a regular, I would highly recommend this beautifully haunting piece of work that managed to enthral the entire audience throughout, from primary school-aged children to septuagenarians.
Image courtesy of Daniel McVey