The littlest mermaids were not necessarily on stage Thursday night when the Carolina Ballet premiered its latest ballet of the season, The Little Mermaid, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Little girls in fancy dresses, tutus, and tiaras filled the seats at Raleigh’s A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater to see (and hear!) one of the most recognizable characters of the ballet season — made even more famous by the 1989 Disney animated film — and they (as well as the adults who accompanied them) were totally enthralled by the magical ballet and its spectacular dancers.
The story of :The Little Mermaid who wants to be human and her love for the romantic prince whom she rescues has spawned movies, music and, of course, this ballet. But more than that, the story tells us about the resilience of love and what we give up to attain that partnership with another human being. Written in 1837 by the famed children’s author Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid is the story of a family of mermaids (and mermen) who live under the sea. As with most children, the three girls always want to have what they cannot; and the littlest of the three looks forward to her 15th birthday, the day she can interact with the human beings who live on or above the sea.
But visit of The Little Mermaid (played by the incomparable Margaret Severin-Hansen) above the water results in an unexpected complication: she falls in love with a handsome prince (Yevgeny Shlapko) from afar. When he falls from his boat during an unexpected storm, she rescues him; but her good feat is derailed when she must return to the sea and allow another girl (Sonia, played by Lindsay Purrington) to take credit for the rescue.
The Little Mermaid reluctantly returns to the sea, longing for her prince. She can return, she is told; but there are consequences. The only way she can have the life she wants, however, is to drink a potion that will allow her to stand on two legs and dance like a human.
As with all potions, this one has a side effect — The Little Mermaid endures incredible pain to gain two legs and the ability to interact with her loved one as a human being. It is a decision that she must make if she wants to remain with the Prince; and it is a decision made even more difficult, because she’ll have to give up a long life and her family to do so.
The ballet opens with a mystical scene under the sea; and Margaret Severin-Hansen, the happy mermaid, dances to a backscreen that mimics the sea. In her solo, she mimics the movement of swimming (kudos to choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett for creating a dance both suitable to Severin-Hansen’s exquisitely delicate skills but also for creating balletic moves that swirl like the water behind the dancer), sometimes even rolling on stage, but never does she appear uncomfortable moving from a leap to a roll. Instead, she is lithe and light, appearing as childlike as the character she portrays. Wearing an aquamarine jumpsuit with legs that mimic the movement of a mermaid’s tail, Severin-Hansen creates the magical fantasy that has all the girls in the audience looking at her in awe.
As in the cinematic version of the tale, the lovers’ angst is balanced by the comical creatures in the tale; and the corps has a fun time with the sea characters, often bringing loud laughter from the audience. Adam Crawford Chavis’ Sea King is strong and majestic, Nikolai Smirnov’s Silverado Swordfish is the perfect sidekick, and Ashley Hathaway and Adam Schiffer as Krusty and Karla Crab flip and twirl and leap across the stage as only crabs can do.
But Randi Osetek as the Sea Witch steals the show! Though she must coordinate with the Two Terrible Tentacles (Manuel Barriga and Ike Hawkersmith), who are attached to her by long cloth tentacles, Osetek maintains a direct connection with the audience, perfectly miming the voice (Joy Hermalyn) that animates her movements. She dances animatedly, with the menace of a witch and the beauty of a sylph. (And the Gullible Goldfish are the cutest ever!)
Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer Robert Weiss has not only made the perfect casting choice with Margaret Severin-Hansen as The Little Mermaid, but also created a purely delightful cast of characters both above and beneath the sea. The ballet is a lovely interpretation of the classic tale and one certain to be an audience favorite this season.
After intermission (when most of the littlest mermaids in the audience have gone home to dream of the ballet), principal dancers Lilyan Vigo Ellis and Marcelo Martinez take over the stage for a masterful production of the Petit Ballet Romantique, choreographed by Weiss with music by Léo Delibes. A light and classic ballet, the choreography allows the dancers to exhibit the full range of their talents. Lilyan Vigo Ellis’ elegance and Martinez’s smoky strength play off each other well.
The dance is a lovely one, certainly a beautiful example of Robert Weiss’ strength as a choreographer, but somewhere in the back of this reviewer’s mind, the song “Under the Sea” continues playing; and it is The Little Mermaid that’s the star of this wonderful evening with the Carolina Ballet.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 1st Raleigh, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-little-mermaid/Event?oid=5101784; and Jan. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article128896114.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s THE LITTLE MERMAID at 1 and 5 p.m. Feb. 4, 2 p.m. Feb. 5, 1 and 5 p.m. Feb. 11, 2 p.m. Feb. 12, 1 and 5 p.m. Feb. 18, and 2 p.m. Feb. 19 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $50.14-$88.14 (including fees), except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/the-little-mermaid, https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/repertoire-entry/P57, https://www.facebook.com/events/750396511768602/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/little-mermaid-7084.
2016-17 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2016-2017-season.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/carolinaballet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Lynne Taylor-Corbett (Carolina Ballet principal guest choreographer): http://www.lynnetaylor-corbett.com/ (official website), https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/lynne-taylor-corbett (Carolina Ballet bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lynne-taylor-corbett-1480 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0853360/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynne_Taylor-Corbett (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.