NORTHERN BALLET – September 26-30, 2017
Northern Ballet’s new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Little Mermaid will bring a mystical and beautiful underwater world to Norwich Theatre Royal next week.
Telling the story of a young mermaid who is willing to give up her life below the waves in a search for love and the desire to gain a human soul, the ballet will be performed in the city from September 26 to 30 as part of its world première tour.
This new ballet is the third of an unprecedented three new full-length productions to be created by the Leeds-based company in 2017. It follows on from Casanova which was seen on the Norwich stage in April, and an adaptation of John Boyne’s bestselling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which is touring other cities throughout the summer.
Norwich will be The Little Mermaid’s first stop-off after it premieres in Southampton on September 21 and it then sets off on a nationwide tour throughout the autumn and into next year.
It is choreographed and directed by Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon OBE whose most recent creations for the company include Cinderella, The Great Gatsby and Beauty & the Beast.
He said: “The Little Mermaid is an enchanting story and the fantastical underwater world of the mermaids evokes such beautiful imagery that it will be an excellent addition to our repertoire. So many people have grown up with an awareness of this classic tale and so I am looking forward to introducing audiences to the world beyond the waves.”
Aware of the opportunities and challenges in creating a beautiful underwater world which would contrast with the human world on land above, he explained: “I look at the first part of the ballet as almost a ballet in its own right – it’s like a dance of the sea with the mermaids and fish. It’s about watching movement, what it might be like to be a mermaid and understanding her world so that you can understand the sacrifice she makes for this love she has.”
David Nixon designed the costumes himself, creating shimmering tails for the mermaids and a Scottish kilt look for the land-dwelling human characters. “The music has a slight Scottish influence to it and I have taken a slight Scottish influence to the costume – something like a kilt which is a little different. We always have the dilemma that men are either in tights or trousers, but with kilts there is a freedom of movement there.”
Sally Beamish, who recently wrote the music for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Tempest, was commissioned to write the score for The Little Mermaid while the sets have been given a modern, stylish and contemporary look by Japanese designer Kimie Nakano. Lighting is by Tim Mitchell who has also designed lighting for Northern Ballet’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Cleopatra, Hamlet and The Great Gatsby.
David Nixon said: “It 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.”
He is immensely proud of the company’s creative output this year and believes that “2017 will be an exemplary example of Northern Ballet’s commitment to continuing to create new work and contributing to the dynamic UK dance scene.
“With an unprecedented three new full-length ballets in one year, I am delighted that we are presenting audiences with such a diverse range of new productions. As a company of talented dance actors, Northern Ballet is in a privileged position to be able to adapt so many different works and continue to challenge the idea of what stories can be told through dance.
Norwich Eye asked David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet and Choreographer, Director and Costume Designer for The Little Mermaid, to tell us more about The Little Mermaid.
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 will the Little Mermaid look like?
“We are still in the early days of creation but we want the Little Mermaid herself to have a slightly alien look when she becomes a human because from my perspective she’s never a human. 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. The Little Mermaid will have a type of tail and she will dance beautifully with it – you will have to come and see the ballet to find out how”.
Previous to The Little Mermaid, had you ever worked with 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, if there is one?
“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”.
Tickets are on sale now and can be booked at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or by contacting the Box Office on 01603 630000.
Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid, Tuesday, September 26 to Saturday September 30, 2017. Eves 7.30pm, Mats Thur & Sat 2.30pm Tickets £8-£38.50. Discounts for Friends, Over 60s, Under 18s, Schools and Groups. Family tickets also available. BOX OFFICE 01603 630000. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk