Challenge, beauty in the ballet version of the Little Mermaid
By Zhang Qian
THE Little Mermaid is about to take off her tail and land in Shanghai in late October during the Shanghai International Arts Festival.
The ballet “The Little Mermaid,” created by John Neumeier, will be presented by the Central Ballet Theater at Shanghai Culture Square on October 22-23. The beautiful story works at levels for both children and adults, says Feng Ying, president of the ballet theater.
“The children may just find the beautiful underwater world attractive, while the adults may find their own reflection in the innocent Little Mermaid struggling in the human world of vanity,” says Feng. “How many of us can stick to the pure love with no strings attached like the Little Mermaid did?”
The ballet version of “The Little Mermaid” was created by Neumeier as a commissioned work for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. It is largely based on Andersen’s famous fairy tale, describing the sharp differences between the Little Mermaid’s simple underwater world and the complicated world of humans.
It had been staged by the Royal Danish Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. In China, it was first presented by the Central Ballet Theater in 2012.
According to Feng, Neumeier personally recommended “The Little Mermaid” to the Central Ballet Theater when it was considering introducing one of his plays in 2009. He was confident about a great interpretation by the Chinese ballet dancers, with their peaceful and introverted characteristics.
Interpreting the characters rather than just completing the dance movements is a basic requirement of Neumeier for every dancer in the show, according to Lu Na, who plays a supporting role in “The Little Mermaid.”
“He always briefed the character and its role in the story, and then taught us how to use body language and facial expression including eye contact, as he believes details determine success or failure,” says Lu.
Neumeier told the dancers in rehearsal that he didn’t want to help the Central Ballet Theater simply make a copy, but create a Little Mermaid of their own.
“It is very demanding to play the Little Mermaid, as she has to present her change and struggle by body language,” says Feng. “The mermaid gave up her tail and freedom in the underwater world, and put on pointe shoes so as to be as attractive as the princess. However, she can never be.”
Oriental elements such as mask art in local operas are widely used to highlight the characteristics of the underwater creatures. And especially long pantskirt that resembles the water sleeves in Chinese opera helps create beautiful tales of the mermaid.
“Wearing the long pantskirt, the dancers just could not help falling down at first, but they adapted to it in repetitive practice and managed perfect leaps with it,” says Feng.