Choreography: David Nixon
Music: Sally Beamish
Reviewer: Lu Greer
Northern Ballet’s latest re-imagining of a classic story sees them take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid; the story of a naive young mermaid who, after the briefest of glimpses at life above the waves, falls for the human world and particularly for one man in it. As the curtain rises there is an air of anticipation as the audience, of course, familiar with the Disney version and knowing that there will be no singing crabs on the stage, wait to see how, and indeed if, the Northern Ballet Company will bring the story to life.
From the moment the show begins, it becomes clear that ballet belongs to the underwater world.
The fluid dance and eddies created in movement become the very movement of water. The use of greens and blues combined with mirrors gives the staging of the underwater world an eerie feel and adds to the sense of constant movement. What becomes immediately apparent is that it will be David Nixon’s costumes which will, in fact, steal the show. The skirts swirl with the water, the head dressed create the spray, and the mermaid sisters flash their shimmering tales as they drift around the stage. The immediate combination of movement and colour truly transports the audience to life under the sea.
As Marilla (Abigail Prudames) appears in this world, her depiction of a mischievous, playful, and carefree young mermaid compliments her surroundings wonderfully, and through her impish movements, her nature and curiosity are quickly developed. It seems almost a shame to leave the drifting and swirling of the underwater world to reach the land as Marilla falls for the Prince (Joseph Taylor). Here the sets are simplistic, with two moving pale rock walls which shift around the stage to represent the rocks, ship, palace and more. The jolt from the comfort of the underwater world is mirrored exceptionally by Prudames, as she twists and writhes painfully on the land. While Taylor as the prince gives a solid performance is it Dreda Blow as Dana, the Prince’s eventual love, whose joviality brings a spark of life to the land setting.
This contrast between sea and land is represented carefully in the score by Sally Beamish, with serene melodies following the sea folk, and shanties taking their place on the land. There is perhaps a little too much trilling to show off Marilla’s apparently beautiful voice and it does become a little wearing, but this is overcome with the quality of the rest. Indeed, this is a theme for much of the ballet, as the short story of The Little Mermaid means that some scenes are stretched out thinly and lose the emotional investment of the audience.
The ballet is, at times, a masterclass in contrasting scenes and emotions as the use of costume and movement gives the cheeriest and most melancholic moments a resonance with the audience.
While at times it is a little slow and less heartfelt, the choices and isolation of Marilla touch the audience, and more than a few present will still quietly be wishing that they were under the sea.
Runs until 30 September 2017 | Image: Emma Kauldhar