Director and Choreographer: David Nixon CBE
Composer: Sally Beamish OBE
Earlier this year David Nixon stepped down as the artistic director of Northern Ballet after more than twenty, extraordinary years at the helm. Nixon has established the company to be one of the leading ballet companies in the country and their touring productions are some of the most coveted tickets in dance. A fitting departure sees a revival of the 2017 production of The Little Mermaid which comes to Sheffield this week. A pioneering endeavour which won the BroadwayWorld UK award.
Composer Sally Beamish has drawn from her Celtic influences and Scottish folklore to take this production in a fresh direction that brings the long history of the mermaid legend to a new and vibrant stage. Early in the score her use of overlapping strings evokes the movement of water. Her instrumentation identifies the characters and neatly brings the story together.
Naturally the first question when staging a production that predominantly takes place under water is; “How do you make it look like it’s under water?” A challenge that could easily underwhelm. Every component of the production has been carefully designed to create an entirely believable underwater setting. Tim Mitchell’s lighting design has given depth to the stage, with the sunshine above and the reflection of water beneath. A reflective surface of the backdrop and two curved flats that revolve give movement to the stage and helps the eye travel across the space. When we are on land the flats are rotated to reveal coarse and brutal rock formations, a slick and effective way to contrast the two worlds. Director David Nixon has also sat at the head of costume design and throughout has engineered ways to allow the dancers to covey movement in their costume. Earthy tones for scenes on land, as well as an expanse of space, means the underwater world seems cosier and more inviting. Some beautiful choreography explores the height of the stage in a way that is rarely experienced in ballet. Erina and Evelina, our protagonists’ sisters have several sequences that achieve some compelling underwater movement which seems natural and effortless.
The lead, Marilla (danced by Abigail Prudames on the 22nd) captured the naivety and youthful adoration of a girl who makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. Her charm and optimistic spirit is pitched perfectly to contrast her painful transition to land and her eventual demise. Her solo dance upon first discovering her new legs was anguished and tragic, showing the agony she feels with each step but her determination to exist in this new world. A pas de deux with her prince Adair (danced by Joseph Taylor on the 22nd) shows an interesting new dynamic on the traditional ballet duet, with the strong female leading the vulnerable male as he is swept up by her power and grace. Beautifully performed by both. Sarah Chun is enchanting as the prince’s bride and Filippo Di Vilio is a sprightly seahorse companion to Marilla, complimenting her gliding quality with an exuberant bounce.
A 2 hour and twenty-minute run time for the classical story would make this an ideal first-time ballet for younger audience members, though there is much to be appreciated for anyone. A stunningly realised world that marries the classical with the new. All of the froth and sparkle one would hope for in such a production but an emphasis on the brutality of this tragic love story.
Runs until Saturday 24th September 2022, before continuing on tour.