HGCBT Lands a Great Catch With "The Little Mermaid"

Everyone is familiar with the tale of the little mermaid, often conjuring up Disney Technicolor images of the red-headed Ariel and her amusing sidekick Flounder.

But audiences at Hope Garden Ballet’s production of The Little Mermaid this spring were treated a version closer to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale. This tragic and haunting love story between the little mermaid and the prince was told in a show full of lush costumes and scenery, wonderful acting, and beautiful dancing. The ballet’s choreography offered a wide range of pleasures, blending pieces of classical ballet with contemporary choreography.

In Hope Garden’s original ballet, by artistic director Fran Ichijo, the little mermaid princess (Danielle Creedon) celebrates her birthday with her parents, the Sea King and Queen, and the various fish in the underwater kingdom. Blue minnows, jellyfish, clownfish, guppies, and angelfish are playfully performed by the youngest of the dancers, all dazzling in their costumes that mirror the colors of the sea. Even sharks and sea shells join in the celebration. The Sea Queen (Veronica Contreras / Sonya McLaren) delivers a breathtaking solo from Raymonda, and the mermaid sisters congratulate their sister, performing a beautiful version of the Friends Dance from Coppelia.

Now that the little mermaid has turned 15, she is allowed to swim to the surface, where she delights in the waves and flying fish. There she spies a handsome prince (John Foster) aboard a ship. Thanks to Hope Garden’s wonderful set design, the audience truly feels they are out at sea, when a large life-sized ship moves across the stage, as if rocking on the waves. A sudden storm sweeps the prince overboard, and the mermaid drags him safely to shore. She falls in love with the prince as she gazes at his handsome face, but must hide when a young temple maiden (Kimora Maier) discovers him. It is the maiden who has him brought back to the palace, setting up confusion in the prince’s mind as to who rescued him, foreboding an unhappy ending for the little mermaid.

In Act Two, the mermaid, so in love with her prince and longing to become human, is tempted by the Sea Witch (Carly Johnson) to exchange her lovely voice for a pair of legs. Contemporary dancers dressed in green and purple costumes representing kelp perform to haunting music on a dimly-lit stage. They seem to sway back and forth in the ocean currents, as they protect the sea witch, while at the same time entangling the innocent mermaid.

With her new legs, the mermaid swims ashore where she enters the palace. There she finds a celebration of the return of the prince, which includes guests from South America, North America, Japan, and France. The performances of these guests delight the audience: the Japanese dancer (Kazuki Yagi) performs incredible leaps across the stage and high jumps in Solor’s variation from La Bayadere. And just as Disney himself would add color to his stories, Hope Garden lends some spice to the ballet with two professional ballroom dancers (Ariana Moon and Adam Lerer) dancing the samba as they portray the Latin guests. And the American guests deliver a foot-stomping hip hop dance to get the crowd rocking.

The mermaid longs to be with the prince and does her best to charm him, but without her voice, she cannot tell him that it was she who saved him. The prince is drawn to her, and takes turns dancing with the mermaid as well as the maiden. The dancers perform wonderful solos and pas de deuxes from Giselle, causing the audience to wonder who the prince will choose. But in the end the prince is betrothed to the maiden, still believing it was she who saved him.

Unable to win the prince’s pledge, the mermaid cannot remain human. Although the Sea Witch offers her another choice – giving her a knife to kill the prince so she can return to being a mermaid – the mermaid cannot bring herself to commit the deed. She becomes a divine spirit and dives into the ocean, where she is welcomed by the Queen of the Mist (Hannah Wills/Renee Terragno). The Queen and the Spirits of the Air embrace the little mermaid, with a timeless dance from the classical ballet Paquita.

The performance is capped off by a wonderful “Dance of Pure Love,” as the little mermaid once again finds her voice. Creedon, who has already won over the audience with her dancing, now proves she can also sing, with her performance of “Nella Fantasia.” As she sings, Suzanne Creedon and Josh Snyder perform the dance of love, bringing an inspiring end to this classic tale of sacrifice and unconditional love.

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