The Little Mermaid – A Northern Ballet Production

Well, it’s Christmas and as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews there is nothing more Christmassy than going to the Ballet with everyone dressed up in glitter and gold and little girls in beautiful dresses dreaming of being a dancer themselves one day.

Having neither read the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen nor watched the Disney film, I had only a rough outline of the story of ‘The Little Mermaid’; when I say rough, I mean that I knew it was about a mermaid! I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was an unusually dark tale with a storyline filled with enough tragedy to make any opera proud, which for me was a real bonus.

As expected the story centres around a mermaid, Marilla, who is intrigued by the human world. One day during a storm she rescues a man who was drowning, the handsome Prince Adair; falling instantaneously in love with him in the process. In order to try and fulfil this love, she must sacrifice everything.  The Lord of the sea, Lyr, granted her the ability to become a human but with the caveat that this would mean she would be in constant pain and lose her voice in the process. The love-struck mermaid agreed to the terms.

Unfortunately, for Marilla at least, the Prince had already fallen in love with another woman and Marilla now struggled in this alien world to be accepted or understood.  She was both in physical pain and heartbroken; unable to communicate or fit in. Her sisters and friends of the sea begged Lyr to take her back but he would only do so if she agreed to kill the Prince, Marilla refused and in an end both tragic and ironic, she drowned in the ocean in which she once swam freely.

There are many things to mention when it comes to this production: the one at the forefront of my mind as I made my way to the Grand Theatre was how they would tackle the challenge of portraying a mermaid with the tail in a ballet? The costumes as always were absolutely beautiful and the mermaids were incredibly clever in design, the mermaid tails attached to the outer seam of sequinned trousers allowing the dancers movement but combined with exceptionally clever choreography the tails appeared whole, especially when the dancers were carried in tight cobra-like positions by the men depicting the sea, floating them up and down in the current of the ocean.

There is a definite Celtic theme in the production.  Lots of men wear skirts; which when they have bodies like ballerinas is no bad thing. The music also had a folk-like flare and it was especially nice to have a vocal section within the orchestra, with Stephanie Irvine, playing the voice of Marilla. Not only was it unusual to feature vocals in a performance like this, it also provided a really poignant way to convey the story and enhanced the experience tremendously.

The set design was very simple but also very clever, with two moving pieces of the stage which could be transformed into cliffs, ships bow, an undersea world and much more with the use of clever lighting and backdrops. As I’ve come to expect from Northern Ballet, the dancing was beautifully choreographed. Joseph Taylor who played Prince Adair was exceptional in his role, showing such strength, making very difficult lifts and postures look easy.  The real star of the show was Yorkshire’s own  Abigail Prudames who played Marilla, who joined Northern Ballet in 2011. She was captivating, not only dancing beautifully but the acting and emotion she brought to the role also took the performance to a whole new level.

It’s sometimes the simplest steps that make a scene – the tingles in Marilla as she fell in love, the little shuffles between Prince Adair and Dana, the flow of the sea in all the underwater scenes; all these moves albeit tiny left you in no doubt of their meaning. There were two standout scenes that really impressed:  the pain that Marilla felt in her legs when she first became a woman and the heartbreaking scene when Marilla realised that her love was unrequited; the emotion Abigail injected into these scenes was especially intense and evoked incredible empathy. The crest of all this emotion was depicted beautifully during the final scene with a solitary glass bauble rising from the ocean bed, signifying Marilla’s last breath.

Another Northern Ballet success and the perfect way to celebrate the season’s festivities.

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