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The Little Mermaid review at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – ‘danced with aplomb’

The Northern Ballet of The Little Mermaid at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Emma Kauldhar The Northern Ballet of The Little Mermaid at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Emma Kauldhar
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The Little Mermaid completes Northern Ballet’s hat-trick year of premieres in sparkling style. Choreographed by company director David Nixon, it’s a thoroughly absorbing, superbly danced take on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, full of imaginative and intelligent detail.

Ballet excels at portraying the airy, the eerie and the aqueous – here that’s realised to the full. We’re presented with a marvellous underwater realm rendered in fluid physical language. The piscine ensemble –including a capering seahorse companion for Marilla, the Little Mermaid – form swirling eddies in skirts of duck-egg and mint, some capped with feathery headdresses that subvert Swan Lake associations into images of spume and spray.

Mermaid sisters are held aloft to bob, weave and drift, displaying their shimmering tails. Kimie Nakano’s designs are ingeniously effective. To shift the narrative between ocean and land, two concave structures with mottled seashell surfaces turn to reveal ragged rocky cliffs.

The score by Sally Beamish (her second sea-based ballet this year, after Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Tempest) is cinematic, combining fluting melodies for the mermaid with jaunty shanties and reels for the earthbound folk. Only the inclusion of some soprano trilling to alert us to the Mermaid’s singing talents has a touch of over-literal Disney sappiness.

As Marilla, Abigail Prudames is excellent, transitioning from buoyant, curious delight into sensory abjection, her new legs knotted in pain on the shore. Dreda Blow shines too as the playful – crucially pedestrian – girl that the prince falls for. There’s no saccharine ending here. It is a melancholic meditation on sacrifice and isolation that builds to a numinous apotheosis.

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Inventive and largely unsentimental ballet adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, danced with aplomb