Review by Gemma Keliher
Part of Queensland Ballet’s ‘My First Ballet’ series, The Little Mermaid saw the Thomas Dixon Centre transformed from a night at the ballet to a night under the sea. With themed decorations, art installations, and colouring for the young ones, the West End venue was child friendly and set to make an accessible and engaging night at the ballet. Welcomed by the gentle sounds of the ocean pre-curtain rise, as the show began the voice of the Spirit of the Sea, Sarah McIntosh, gave the audience a welcome to each of the characters before the story began. This recorded narration continued throughout the hour long performance, giving a clear explanation to the younger members of the audience what was happening in certain moments of the story, which is traditionally communicated solely via pantomime and the choreography.
For those children, and adults, who were already familiar with The Little Mermaid, the story itself remained largely as we know. The Little Mermaid, discontented with her life under the waves, dreams of being a part of the human world. After saving and falling in love the Prince, she strikes a deal with the Sea Witch to give her legs in exchange for her voice. The Sea Witch transforms into the Temptress in an effort to lure away the Prince, but before long he sees her real nature and true love wins out.
Since this performance is aimed at introducing younger audiences to the ballet, I felt Paul Boyd’s choreography succeeded at keeping the story clear and simple, while still consistently engaging and full of life. Considering the enormous challenge of how to make dancers on a stage look like sea creatures swimming the deep ocean, I loved the attention to detail of little moments that felt like the dancers were swirling around through the sea, and the Little Mermaid having to drag herself around when reaching land. Aided by Josh McIntosh’s transforming sets, Ben Hughes lighting and Craig Wilkinson’s engaging video design, the audience really was transported between the deep sea and the Prince’s on land garden. There are quite a few locations in the story and the set design was quite clever in being able to clearly differentiate between them all. Zoe Griffiths costume design achieved the same, clearly defining each character onstage with plenty of colour and small details that gave the appearance these characters really had just stepped out of a fairytale and onto the stage. I particularly loved the clever tail design of the Little Mermaid, the dramatic flair of the Sea Witch costume and the neon accents of the Eels.
As these are characters we all know and love, Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists had the challenge on their hands of making these characters their own and giving them fresh life. They seemed to connect well to each of their roles and had strong characterisations, which especially helps keep the storytelling clear to those in the audience that are newer to ballet. Mia Zanardo made a sweet and youthful Little Mermaid and demonstrated her adventurous spirit nicely, and was well paired with Taron Geyl as the Prince, who performed the role with a nice gentleness to it. As the ‘narrator’ of the story, Hana Nonaka Aillon as the Spirit of the Sea was always alive and engaged when on stage and her presence floated beautifully throughout the story. Perhaps my favourite character of the evening, Joseph Moss shone in the role of an evil and menacing Sea Witch with full commitment to the performance. Shanti Barlow as the Temptress equally gave a fantastic performance, keeping the character recognisable to Moss’s version, but with her own flair. The evil sidekicks, and comedic relief, Josh Fagan and Sean Ferenczi as the two eels were fabulous with their physicality. Though it may have been the quietest and most well-behaved audience of young children I had sat in with, I’m hoping the two enjoyed the giggles they received at their background antics. Eliza Wenham as the Little Mermaid’s Sister and James McDonell as Merman rounded out the cast nicely, and I enjoyed their reappearance as the Prince’s Attendant and Prince’s Valet respectively, which they turned into a very sweet little B storyline. This was a promising group of dancers with lovely stage presence, and I hope for the opportunity to see them shine in something more technically complex further in their careers.
Overall, The Little Mermaid was a visually beautiful production and a fantastic choice for the ‘My First Ballet’ series. You never can truly predict what moment may inspire the next generation or makes a night at the ballet magical for them, while leaving I overheard one parent ask their daughter their favourite moment and they earnestly replied, “When they all waved at us at the end, were they waving to me?”. The smallest moments on stage can be magical for the young ones and I think The Little Mermaid has successfully created a night full of this magic and wonder, for both old and young fans alike.