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Image of Northern Ballet: The Little Mermaid
Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Northern Ballet make a welcome return to the Festival Theatre with their latest production, The Little Mermaid. As we have come to expect from Northern Ballet, this is an impeccable production, cleverly crafted for touring, and danced almost faultlessly.

The ballet features a score commissioned from Sally Beamish, which turns out to be a great relief from the relentless wash of minimalist and/or film- and television-style scores that have been cropping up on the dance scene for so many years now. It also makes an enormous difference to have Beamish’s skilfully orchestrated music played live by the excellent Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by John Pryce-Jones.

Beamish’s score is an eclectic mixture of styles—a real love affair with music—and there are definite nods towards the great ballet music of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, to other 20th Century composers, Scottish folk music, and perhaps even British film music. In comparison, David Nixon’s choreography appears more restrained, as if always at least one degree of freedom less than the music. It is rounded and poised, sometimes undulating, and there is frequently an impendence to it: the suggestion of movement through water.

The dancing is excellent throughout. Notable is Abigail Prudames (Marilla), who conveys not only the little mermaid’s strength of resolve, but her isolation on land, and her fragility and pain, very convincingly. Joseph Taylor (Prince Adair), and Dreda Blow (Dana), are also splendid as the in-love couple blind to her predicament and distress: like all the best fairy stories, the moral of the tale is a harsh one.

The Little Mermaid is a massive challenge for all involved. To begin with, it isn’t the easiest of stories to conceive of as a ballet, and it also long and somewhat meandering—hard to pace. However, Northern Ballet do manage to pull it off with their usual attention to detail.

On the other hand, perhaps it is just a little too safe, taking few genuine risks. Neither the music nor the choreography lead us to the precipice and back again—it is more of a gentle slope. Of course, as is demonstrated here, this isn’t entirely necessary for something to be enjoyable or a success. On the other hand, it would be exciting to see Northern Ballet take a look over the edge now and again sometime in the future.