Northern Ballet’s take on The Little Mermaid is so immersive and beautiful that coming up for air during the interval is quite an abrupt reality check.
The return to dry land takes some getting used to because this absorbing and atmospheric two-act ballet sees theatregoers dive into the depths of a mesmerising tale following curious young mermaid Marilla. She lives in a mystical underwater world yet yearns to swim to the surface and experience the human realm. Surging waves of emotion crash over Marilla (and us!) as she falls hopelessly in love with a human prince, subsequently sacrificing her voice and life in the ocean for legs and an opportunity to be where the people are…
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s original 1837 fairy tale, rather than the Disney retelling, Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid is choreographed by the company’s artistic director, David Nixon. It premiered in September 2017 at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre and was one of a hat-trick of new productions created last year for Northern Ballet – the other two being Casanova and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The Little Mermaid’s current visit to Milton Keynes Theatre is occurring at the tail-end of the world premiere tour (it swims off to Leicester next for its final run of performances) but will undoubtedly remain a firm favourite in the company’s repertoire, hopefully to be periodically revived.
Northern Ballet’s dancers are in fine form this year. Following the success of the world première tour of Casanova, they are currently on the road with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – a new full-length narrative ballet based on John Boyne’s 2006 Holocaust novel.
The Irish writer’s international bestseller tells the heart-wrenching tale of a friendship between two nine-year-old boys living a strange parallel existence during the Second World War. Bruno is a German boy; the son of a Nazi officer promoted to the position of Commandant at a fictionalised Auschwitz concentration camp. Cossetted by his family, Bruno is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been relocated from his familiar home in Berlin to a lonely house in the middle of nowhere in Poland. Here, there is nothing to do and no one to play with. At least, there isn’t until Bruno befriends Shmuel, a Jewish boy imprisoned at Auschwitz, through the barbed wire fence of the camp. As Bruno and Shmuel’s unlikely friendship flourishes, the full implications of Bruno’s father’s job as Commandant are exposed. Familial discord inevitably ensues before the harrowing conclusion reveals how, through misadventure, Bruno ends up dying with Shmuel in the gas chamber.
Although the premise of Boyne’s story is emotive and engaging, both the book and the subsequent 2008 film by Mark Herman received mixed reviews. This is due to the implausibility that any concentration camp prisoner could ever have engaged in a friendship with an outsider. Furthermore, the reality is that children below working age were typically murdered immediately upon their arrival at Auschwitz. Nonetheless, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is an affecting account of wartime turmoil as seen through a child’s eyes. Significantly, Northern Ballet’s production, devised and choreographed by Artistic Associate Daniel de Andrade, stays true to the book, confidently using dance to capture the drama of forbidden friendship and family conflict.
Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake is overflowing with dance content and features a love triangle that makes the most of the Company’s premier dancers.
There is no definitive version of the iconic classical ballet so choreographers the world over endeavour to continue the history of this masterpiece in their own unique way. Set during the last days of the Belle Époque, Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake provides a no-nonsense rationale for the main character’s connection to water and, thanks to its focus on three close friends experiencing intense and passionate emotions for each other, plenty of opportunities for dramatic partnering.
An atmospheric Prologue functions as an absorbing mini drama, recounting the lakeside loss that drives David Nixon’s inventive narrative.