On Friday night I went along to check out David Nixon’s production of The Little Mermaid.
Let me just put this out there… I feel like someone thought ‘Ooh! The Little Mermaid! That’s a great idea for a ballet!’ and forgot that an integral part of the plot is that the little mermaid loses her voice. Ballets are already silent… Is it irony? Is it a huge faux pas? Who knows?
Aside from the kind of hilarious aspect of a mute mermaid miming to other mute dancers, there were a few other disappointing aspects.
Firstly, I know this was meant to represent Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ but the villain (who acted a whole lot like Ursula from the Disney film) was portrayed by a man?! Ursula is the best fucking part of The Little Mermaid. There were absolutely no strong female characters even though there was certainly potential.
Along the same vein, the little mermaid herself was so unbelievably pathetic. She spent the entire ballet being hunched over or carried by male dancers. Sadistic as it sounds, the only enjoyable moment of her dancing for me was when she first grows legs and is writhing in pain. Only during that sequence did I feel any sort of personality or passion from her character.
Further disappointment came in the form of ‘Eric’ or whatever the main guy’s name is in the HCA version. What a little slut! He falls for the singing mermaid, then for the first lass he sees when he wakes up (who just so happens to be part of some weird nunnery thing??) then agrees to marry a stranger, then is happy because the stranger ends up being the nun girl, sees the mermaid all upset and doesn’t get why even though she GAVE UP HER TAIL AND VOICE FOR HIM. Ugh. Uggghh.
Anyway, besides the little mermaid’s lack-lustre dancing, most of my issues were with the plot, not with the ballet itself. There were quite a few moments when the dancing was far from in-sync but overall it was powerful and fun. The male dancers, in particular, were incredible to watch. There were a confusing number of influences (also reflected in the costumes) so a lot of the dancing swapped between Russian folk dance, Arabian-influenced dance and some weird derision of Morris dancing?
It sounds like I’m being solely negative, but I guess my standards are crazily high after seeing the magic of Matthew Bourne. The Little Mermaid was entertaining, and really funny at times – I’m not sure if that was purposeful but it was! I liked the way the mermaids were portrayed, ‘swimming’ through the air on the palms of male dancers. I liked a lot of the costume design (except for some hideous sequin trousers that the mermaids were forced to wear!) I loved the sequence as the little mermaid was learning to use her legs and discovering the pain inflicted upon her.
Even though I’ve been a little hard on the ballet, I did have a good time. I’ve always been a fan of ballet and I want to make an effort to go more often. I appreciate that the Northern Ballet company is trying something a little out of the ordinary, repetitions of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker must get boring.
Overall, 10/10 for effort and entertainment. If you’re less of a ballet snob than I am you’ll probably enjoy yourself!