The Little Mermaid - a magical underwater adventure

Northern Ballet dancers in The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar
Northern Ballet dancers in The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar

With an unprecedented three full-length ballets being premiered in 2017 Northern Ballet is in the midst of a challenging year.

After Casanova, seen here in March, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas which came to Doncaster’s Cast in May, the final part of a trilogy of literary adaptations arrives in Sheffield in the shape of The Little Mermaid.

It is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and determines to do anything she can to live a human life.

Choreographed by Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon and performed to an original score by Sally Beamish played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, The Little Mermaid features Abigail Prudames as mermaid Marilla and Joseph Taylor as Prince Adair.

David Nixon, who has also designed the costumes, has said: “The Little Mermaid is an enchanting story and the fantastical underwater world of the mermaids evokes such beautiful imagery that it is an excellent addition to our repertoire. “So many people have grown up with this classic tale and I am looking forward to bringing this new production to the audience in Sheffield for the first time and reintroducing them to the world beyond the waves.”

These days most people probably think of The Little Mermaid as the 1989 film which was the first in a series of blockbusters which restored Disney’s status as pre-eminent animation studio.

We did a lot of work on weightlessness movement’

Joseph Taylor

“It’s not actually based on Disney but the original Hans Christian Andersen story,” corrects soloist Joseph Taylor. “It’s definitely not Disney but a classical fairytale. It’s got a lot more drama than in those Disney films for children.”

It is Joseph’s sixth season with Northern Ballet and he and fellow principal Abigail Prudames have relished originating roles for the first time.

“Being in a new ballet is definitely the way to make something your own,” he says.

“You get more of an input into what the steps are and how things can work. There’s more pressure in a way but I am comfortable with that.”

Joseph Taylor as Prince Adair in Northern Ballet production The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar

Joseph Taylor as Prince Adair in Northern Ballet production The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar

The story is divided between underwater sequences and those on land delineated by the sets by the Japanese designer Kimie Nakano with lighting by Tim Mitchell.

“The way it works is that it has two sides representing water and land and we have different shapes on stage which transfer with the change of set,” explains Joseph.

And crucially there is a contrast in the dance movement.

“There is a weightlessness which you don’t experience on land. We did a lot of work on moving with an ease of weightlessness and that was the most difficult area and we’re continuing to work on that.”

When young mermaid Marilla gets her first glimpse of a life beyond the ocean, she is enthralled by what she sees. After falling desperately in love with the beautiful Prince Adair, she will do anything she can to live a human life.

“In the story the Prince nearly drowns in a storm and the mermaid rescues him but he doesn’t know this because he lands on shore with no memory of what happened to him.

“After the storm he is woken on the shore by the princess and believes it is her who saved him.”

Meanwhile the Little Mermaid is so determined to be with the Prince she takes a potion which will turn her tail into human legs. In doing so she loses her voice and is unable to communicate so can’t tell the Prince about the rescue.

“She has lived a life of sacrifice and the Prince sees her more as a child and feels sorry for her,” observes Joseph.

As to the character of Prince Adair, “I think he is a charming young man. He’s a sailor much admired by his colleagues on the ship. He’s a prince but not at all regal about it, He just happens to be a member of the royal family.”

Joseph Taylor started dancing at the age of seven in his home town of Skegness and began his professional training aged 16 at Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham (also attended by Abigail Prudames who grew up in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire).

He joined Northern Ballet in 2012 and was promoted to Soloist in 2016 and counts Anthony from Swan Lake as his favourite previous role.

Life as a dancer at Northern Ballet often means working on more than one production at a time.

“We have just done Celebration (a triple bill to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Sir Kenneth McMillan) and will soon start rehearsing for the Jane Eyre season (which will be coming to the Lyceum in April). There is always a certain amount of going back and forth.”

If you suggest Joseph Taylor has done well to emerge from what is not exactly a dancing hotbed, he points out: “Skegness has produced one other dancer, as far as I am aware, and that’s Deborah Bull (who made her name at the Royal Ballet) which is not a bad claim to fame.”

Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.