A dark fairytale with so many twists and turns you won’t know which way is up, The Little Mermaid promises a night out like no other.
This December, Northern Ballet is bringing a brand new production of The Little Mermaid to Leeds Grand Theatre, and trust us when we say, it’s not what you expect. Forget Disney, they’ve gone back to Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale, giving their version of the story a dark twist. But that’s not the only reason to go, as you’ll soon see…
It’s got a Celtic element, thanks to composer Sally Beamish
Choreographer David Nixon brought in Sally Beamish to do the score. She has over 200 compositions behind her, with everything from solos to operas, ballets and full orchestra numbers – but she ended up influencing much more than the music.
“The first thing I thought of for The Little Mermaid were the Scottish and Celtic tales of sea folk, of the selkies and so on. So when I first had the discussions with David Nixon I asked if this slant might be possible and he’s really gone with it, so much so that there are Celtic elements in the costume designs,” Sally explained.
The mermaid costumes are ingenious
How can you dance with a mermaid’s tail? You’ll have to see the ballet to find out, but needless to say, they’ve done something very cool indeed with the costumes. Each one is intricately pleated, with 79 half circles and 28 quarter circles – and they’ve used 14 metres of sequinned fabric, dyed into different colours for each character.
Ashley Dixon is unrecognisable as Lyr, Lord of the Sea
On stage, he’s the terrifying Lyr, but offstage Ashley Dixon is just another guy – chances are, you won’t even recognise him in street though, because Northern Ballet’s Wigs & Make-up Manager, Harriet Rogers, has transformed him into the Lord of the Sea. He’s one of three dancers who will play Lyr as they tour the country playing 80 shows in 11 theatres.
Their underwater world is absolutely magical
Northern Ballet always wow us with their sets, but this time they’ve outdone themselves. Their underwater world is simply magical – it writhes and moves just like the water, even the dancers are in constant motion, moving with unseen currents. And let’s not forget the costumes. You’ve got beautiful, sparkling mermaids, a hot pink seahorse and a terrifying, almost tribal sea lord. Not to mention huge glowing jellyfish and giant fish, swimming around above the dancers heads. It’s a feast for the eyes and the kids will absolutely love it.
You’ll actually see the mermaids swim in an act of raw physical strength that’s simply unbelieveable
You probably weren’t expecting to see the mermaids swim. This is a ballet after all, not a Hollywood movie – but they’ve found a way, and it’ll amaze you. The mermaids are lifted high into the air for longer than you ever would have thought possible. It’s a huge feat of strength on the part of the male dancers, but it’s definitely worth it as you watch the mermaids flip and dive in mid-air.
It’s beautiful, funny and absolutely spellbinding – but it still ain’t Disney
It looks every bit as magical, it’s even surprisingly funny at times, but this is nothing like the Disney version. Northern Ballet have taken their lead from Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale, and they haven’t shied away from the darker side of the story, in fact, it’s very much at the heart of the ballet.
“Hans Christian Andersen’s story is the original and the source, and I like to be as true to the core of something as possible. Disney for me is wonderful, yet in certain ways it misrepresents the fairytales it adapts,” Artistic Director, David Nixon, told us. “I think that with The Little Mermaid there is a reason that it is not a ‘happily ever after’ story – life isn’t ‘happily ever after’. We’ve been working on finding a way that the original ending is softened but still stays true to the story.”
The little mermaid makes a huge sacrifice for love, but it’s unrequited
Just like the Disney version, our little mermaid, Marilla, falls in love with the Prince, but she doesn’t just have to give up her voice to be with him – to get her legs, she also has to accept that every step will cause her agonising pain. It’s a huge sacrifice, but she does it because she loves him – the kicker is, it’s all for nought. While she was beneath the waves, he fell in love with someone else, and you won’t even be able to hold it against him, because their joy is so damned infectious that you’re rooting for them, not the mermaid.
There’s no better way to show her pain than through dance
Who would have a thought that watching a person in pain would be so mesmerising? And yet, as Marilla writhes and flails, contorting her body into unnatural positions with strange fish-like gestures, the audience is utterly captivated – and yes, we can say that, because we nipped over to Newcastle to see it. Pain is difficult to describe and even harder to understand, but when it’s played out in front of you in agonising detail, it’s only too easy to imagine what she’s going through.
And you can see that she doesn’t belong in the human world
Above land, it’s a whole different world. The deep earthy tones are a stark contrast to Marilla’s sea-blue dresses and their dancing is so natural and familiar that her unusual aquatic style becomes almost alien. Here, in a world where she can’t communicate and where every step causes her pain, she’s treated more like a curiosity than a comrade – and she certainly isn’t a love interest.
So, yeah, there’s a happy ending, but not for the mermaid
Somehow, Northern Ballet have given us both a happy ending and a heartbreaking one. The prince is reunited with his soulmate and Marilla finds herself with another incredibly difficult decision to make – she can return to the sea and her beloved sisters, but only if she kills the prince. The question is, will she do it?
Don’t let that put you off bringing the kids though, it’s still surprisingly family-friendly. “It’s a story for both children and adults because it’s got adult themes running through it alongside the magic of the water world, the mermaids and the water creatures. Parents are sometimes a little bit hesitant about taking children to see things where it doesn’t all end up happy, but for me behind the story is love and the power of love,” Nixon told us.