Submerging into an aquatic world of mythical creatures is certainly the stuff of childhood dreams and here, The Northern Ballet brings an underwater journey theatrically to life. Don’t come expecting Disney – there’s no sign of Ariel or Ursula. Instead, this rendition is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s original version, so it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in this bittersweet retelling of the age-old yarn that pulls on the heart strings.
As large-scale ballet productions go, this has a relatively simple set by Kimie Nakano. Gentle shifts in Tim Mitchell’s carefully orchestrated lighting move us from a sea to land and back again, but it’s without doubt the underwater sequences that steal the show. A watercolour backdrop extends the full height and width of the stage, with beams from above helping to encapsulate the appearance of the ocean on a sunny day. Fluidity is taken to another level as the dancers bob and dive in an apparent effortless weightlessness that belies gravity and feels as though we’re voyeurs looking onto an enormous, exotic, semi-human fish tank.
Our heroine, Marilla, is delicately and beautifully interpreted by Abigail Prudames who emotes joy, pain, sadness, physically embodies the pain of heartbreak and embodies the other-worldliness of a half-fish creature. She’s everything we want from a mermaid, aided by her stunning ethereal costumes of translucent greens, blues and her initial iridescent tail which is soon replaced by land legs. Indeed, all the costumes are stunning, from Dillon the seahorse’s (Kevin Poeung) bright pink playfulness, to Lyr Lord of the Sea’s (Mathew Topliss) imposing regality, to Marilla’s sisters’ (Ailen Ramos Betancourt and Miki Akuta) shimmering glamour. David Nixon OBE is not only the man behind the design of these delights, but also the expert director and choreographer of the production.
Marilla and Price Adair (Joseph Taylor) come from two different worlds and it’s down to Marilla to adapt to his, rather than the other way around. Of course, while this has more to do with his lack of gills than anything else, it does echo the contemporary and very real issues of cross cultural relationship prejudices and problems, and the still prolific expectation of women to bend and fit their lifestyle and situation where change is required, even to extreme and great cost – as mirrored here in Marilla’s visibly painful adjustment to human legs.
The story of The Little Mermaid perhaps proffers less opportunity for dance in terms of dynamic scene changes and dramatic variety, so it is perhaps a little less gripping than some of the more ubiquitous ballets, but it is an enchanting and magical experience that transports us to the subterranean depths with elegance and élan.