The Little Mermaid
Until Saturday, December 2
IT’S COMMONLY said that 93 per cent of human communication is non-verbal — Northern Ballet lends that figure great weight.
Surely there was never such joy, pain, humour and sadness conveyed without words at all.
Forget Disney — The Little Mermaid is a beautiful ballet revival, by David Nixon OBE, of Hans Christian Andersen’s somewhat grim fairy tale.
Mermaid Marilla (Dreda Blow) longs to see land after finding a prince’s locket. When the sailor prince is shipwrecked, she rescues and carries him ashore.
Given legs by Lyr, lord of the sea (Ashley Dixon), she pursues her love on land — but the gift comes at the cost of her beautiful voice.
Prince Adair (Guiliano Contradini) mistakes young Dana (Hannah Bateman) for the stranger who rescued him and falls in love with her.
When Marilla arrives, he takes pity on the poor mute — but doesn’t recognise his mistake.
With Adair and Dana set to marry, can the mermaid communicate her love and live happily ever ashore?
Fully realised in just 13 months, this original piece is a masterclass in traditional dancing, supported sumptuously by drama, carnival and mime.
Choreographers have drawn from a world of cultures, with hints of the haka, Cossack and Bollywood dance creeping into the on-land numbers.
Under the sea, human currents carry mermaids aloft, sweeping them along swaying beds of sea flora.
The same dancers form powerful waves which crush Adair’s ship — represented with huge, thorn-shaped structures which are at different times a prow, a house, a palace and a cave.
It's a simple but very effective set device, which is whisked around the stage as though in a whirlpool.
This ship-wrecking scene is harrowing thoguh, with sailors tumbled aloft and dragged down to a watery grave.
Later, Marilla’s first steps are similarly painful, as she shudders fawn-like before collapsing in agony.
The whole saga is punctuated by pain — conveyed very fluently through face acting and mime. But the show remains family-friendly, a love story with a moral sting in the tail.
And there's also plenty to laugh at, with Dillon the seahorse (Matthew Koon) providing harlequin-like comic relief.
As with any ballet, the sheer strength and poise on display is awe-inspiring. Seeing a dancer pirouette en pointe, frozen like a music box ballerina, takes the breath away.
The accompanying score by Sally Beamish — played by an orchestra so large that parts of the Lyceum’s floor have been removed — soars and crashes spectacularly like the waves of a stormy sea.
With costume design which is clever and contemporary (echoing last year’s trend for green glitter and mermaid hair), my one and only criticism is of Lyr’s face.
For while everyone else’s emotions shone through, Lyr’s were obscured by his big, blue accessories.
It muddies the water slightly when this pivotal character, as changeable as the seas he commands, seems permanently angry.
But it’s a very minor gripe at a truly superb production, which will delight land-lubbers young and old.
See www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk for more information and to buy tickets, before Saturday.