The Little Mermaid surfaces in Norwich with stunning new Northern Ballet telling
- Credit: Archant
Hans Christian Andersen's much loved fairytale has emerged from beneath the waves in a new production from Northern Ballet. Artistic director and choreographer David Nixon tells us about bringing it to the stage.
When a young mermaid is finally allowed her first glimpse of life beyond the ocean, she is enthralled by what she sees. After falling desperately in love with a man, she will do anything she can to live a human life.
Northern Ballet has just given a world premiere to beautiful new ballet The Little Mermaid that re-imagines the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and takes audiences on a journey beneath the waves. This region gets the chance to see when it opens at Norwich Theatre Royal next week.
Performed to an original score composed by Sally Beamish played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, it has been choreographed and directed by Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon OBE — who has also designed the spectacular costumes.
The story maybe more familiar to many from the Disney animation but in Hans Christian Andersen's version, the mermaid's legs come at a price – not only does she lose her voice, she's also in pain with every step she takes.
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The Little Mermaid is the third of three full-length narrative ballets premiered by the company this year, the others being Kenneth Tindall's Casanova and the adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by Daniel de Andrade.
Since joining Northern Ballet, David has added an impressive array of new works to the repertoire including other fairytale stories Sleeping Beauty, Beauty & the Beast and Cinderella.
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The Little Mermaid will be your first ballet since Cinderella in 2013 – why did you choose this story?
We felt that we needed to have a new ballet for the autumn season and chose The Little Mermaid because it's a popular story that resonates with a lot of people. I also think the water element of the story is very danceable in people's minds. The Little Mermaid herself dances in the story so there is a lot of movement there already.
Why did you choose the original Hans Christian Andersen story? Did you look at other sources during your research?
I always go back to the source material. Disney for me is wonderful yet in certain ways it misrepresents the fairytales it adapts. I think that with The Little Mermaid there is a reason that it is not a 'happily ever after' story. During my research I did watch some opera adaptations of The Little Mermaid and the 1975 Japanese anime film that came before the Disney version. I didn't watch the Disney version because I didn't want to be influenced by it. Hans Christian Andersen's story is the original and I like to be as true to the core of something as possible, so the ballet is really just drawn from his story.
Why are so many classic fairytales adapted for ballet?
I think ballet has historically been perceived as a fantasy art form - look at Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Sylphide, Giselle… they're all very romantic and fairytale-like ballets. These classic ballets also came out of an era where people read a lot of fairytales. Ballet didn't really deal with 'real' stories until the last century. Fairytales are great when you're looking at creating a ballet for the whole family to come to and enjoy, because fairytales are something that families usually share which gives you a common ground with the audience.
How do the sets and costumes create the underwater world of The Little Mermaid?
The stage will look different to how our productions normally look. It's made up of plastic and mirror so I'm hoping it will have a phenomenal water look to it – but I don't know at this early stage how that's fully going to play out. The ballet will have quite a contemporary look because we are not making real concrete worlds. It's quite imaginative.
What does the Little Mermaid look like?
I think it's a bit of an odd idea that mermaids are just humans with a tail - it's a fish! So even when the Little Mermaid loses her tail and becomes a woman she's not human. She also can't speak which makes her even more of a 'creature' rather than a human to the people around her - a beautiful creature, something that moves in a different way and that is exotic but still kind of alien.
Previous to The Little Mermaid, had you ever worked with composer Sally Beamish before? How did you come across her and her work?
I have never worked with Sally before unfortunately. We were looking for a composer and at the time Sally had actually just written the music for Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Tempest. My Music Director John Pryce-Jones went to see it and he said he thought that she would be a very good person write the music for The Little Mermaid. Sally's score for The Little Mermaid has a hint of Scottish themes reflecting the Celtic elements of the story that we have brought out.
What do you think the overall message of the story of The Little Mermaid is?
I think that there are quite a few messages. It's a story about dreams and aspirations, as well as naivety. The Little Mermaid thinks that because she loves somebody they will love her back. She is struck by the Prince right away and sacrifices so much to become a woman, naively thinking that by doing so they will be together. It is a story about absolute love. When he marries someone else, although heartbroken she is selfless – she is presented with the opportunity to go back to the water world, but by doing a deed that would destroy the one person that she has felt completely committed to. She makes the choice not to do that. The Mermaid also does this beautiful dance for the marrying couple so there's this generosity about her too. That's what I think is the lesson of the story - there are choices in life that do mean that we don't get what we want, but they are the right choices morally.
• The Little Mermaid, Norwich Theatre Royal, September 26-30, 7.30pm, 2.30pm Sept 28/30, £38.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.ukThe Little Mermaid In Numbers
• Each mermaid costume is intricately pleated, with 79 half circles and 28 quarter circles.
• They've used 14 metres of sequined fabric, dyed into different colours for each character.
• The men will be wearing kilts and they've ordered 200 sets of buckles to keep them in place.
• Every year, Northern Ballet uses over 5,600 pairs of pointe shoes – that's over 230 per dancer.