Sunday, 28 January 2018

Nixon's Little Mermaid - Perhaps His Best Work Yet

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Northern Ballet The Little Mermaid 19:15 2 Dec 2017 Sheffield Lyceum

In 2017 in Retrospect 7 Jan 2018 I chose Northern Ballet as my company of the year because of its three, new, full-length ballets:
"These were Kenneth Tindall's Casanova which I had expected to be good and was not disappointed (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017 and Casanova Second Time Round 7 May 2017). Daniel de Andrade's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which I did not expect to like at all but was moved deeply (see The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet" 10 Sept 2017) and David Nixon's The Little Mermaid which I have yet to review but is, perhaps, his best work yet."
Here is my promised review.

There are many reasons why I liked The Little Mermaid. First, the libretto which follows Hans Christian Anderson's story closely. Secondly, the score. I applaud Nixon's commissioning Sally Beamish who had also composed the music for David Bintley's work, The Tempest (see The Tempest 9 Oct 2016). Thirdly, his casting which provided an opportunity for Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor to shine in leading roles.  Lastly, but by no means least, I admired Kimie Nakano's sets and costumes very much, particularly the underwater scenes in the first act.

The quality of this ballet that impressed me most was the detailed study of the mermaid's psyche,  She exchanged a carefree life below the waves with friends and family for an excruciating and lonely existence on land.  She gave up all that she had for the love of a human.  She did that not once but twice.  She had an opportunity to sink a knife into the prince who had spurned her and thereby return to the sea as a mermaid.  An opportunity that some women would have seized willingly even without the reward of personal transformation. Instead. she chose a path that she thought would lead to self-annihilation.

Much was demanded of the dancer who was to perform that role.  It had to be one of the company's younger members for the mermaid, like Shakespeare's Juliet, was on the cusp of adulthood. Also like Juliet she had to project a range of emotions, some conflicting as she grew up almost overnight,  Prudames was impressive in that role. Earlier in the year I had seen her in the preview (see First Impressions of the Little Mermaid 27 July 2017).  I noted then:
"I also liked some of the extracts, particularly the solo when the mermaid. danced by Abigail Prudames, discovers her new legs. Stranded on the shore she experiences pain for the first time. Prudames communicated that sensation chillingly. Much as Edvard Munch does in The Scream."
Three months on and after several weeks of  performances on tour she was even more impressive.

Though less is demanded of the male lead emotionally, the audience has to understand why the mermaid was prepared to sacrifice so much for him.  He has to be magnetically attractive, dashing and handsome. Taylor showed all of those qualties and more. Brave in the storm and compassionate on finding a beautiful, solitary. voiceless young woman on the shore,  Though captivated by her dancing he remained faithful to his bride.

The bride was danced by Dreda Blow, one of the company's leading soloists. A pretty role that she performed delightfully.

Other important roles were the lord of the sea (Matthew Topliss) who supplied the potion that transformed the mermaid into a human being as well as the knife by which she would have changed back, the mermaid's sisters, Ayami Miyata and Rachael Gillespie, two of my favourite artists who are always a pleasure to watch and the mermaid's affectionate and faithful friend, the seahorse, Kevin Poeung, another dancer whom I like a lot.  The corps had important tasks in the ballet, as sea creatures (or, in some cases, as bearers of such creatures), as sailors, fishermen and villagers. Altogether it was a very polished performance.

I had enjoyed the extracts from Beamish's score in the preview.  Having heard the whole work I liked it even more than her music for The Tempest.  I particularly liked the Celtic allusions that Beamish inserted subtly much in the way that Løvenskiold had done in his score for La Sylphide. There were Scottish or Irish echoes in the men's kilts (plain material without tartans) and in the human characters' names: Adair, Dana and Brina.

This production will visit the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh between the 22 and 24 March 2018. I shall be interested to know what a Scottish audience makes of the kilts and Beamish's score. It will then move on to Milton Keynes (close to two of the company's most devoted fans) in April and round of its tour at Leicester in May. No new full length works this year but with tried and tested favourites like Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre and The Nutcracker the company can expect another good year.

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