THE LITTLE MERMAID. Premier of two-act ballet choreographed by Adam Sage. Music: Leo Delibes and others. AV Designs: Kirsti Cumming. Costumes: Adam Sage and Mervyn Williams. Lighting: Wilhelm Disbergen. Presented by Cape Town City Ballet. Artscape Theatre.
SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews
Thanks to movie director Armandi Gutierrez and producer Robert Molloy’s 2018 animated ingenuity, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid is presently all the rage for toddlers up to those reaching “10 fingers.” Not only do they sit glued to television screens when the movie plays – which is pretty often – their dresses, nightwear, headgear, party themes, even birthday cakes are designed around Ariel, the Little Mermaid who falls in love with an earthling prince, and all the drama surrounding that love.
Generally speaking, The Little Mermaid is a “girly” story. However, to use CTCB’s male contingent, choreographer Adam Sage introduces a few mermen partnering mermaids, a Sea King (Daniel Szybkowski), the Prince’s father (Johnny Bovang) and naturally the handsome prince himself (Conrad Nusser). The baddie is Leane Theunissen as the Sea Witch, Hannah Ward her scheming alter ego and Kirstel Paterson, the gentle, beautiful, charming technically strong mermaid, (Sage declines to name her).
Sage’s The Little Mermaid represents CTCB’s annual festive season ballet. A ballet giving younger generation dancers an opportunity to work with professional dancers, learn from an international choreographer and perform on Cape Town’s premier theatre stage – a special experience.
Exotic fish, sea horses and turtles
Against Kirsti Cumming’s magical AV underwater designs where exotic fish swam past an underwater Taj Mahal, and sea grasses sway with the current, young dancers danced as starfish, rainbow fish, tiny crabs, sea horses and swimming turtles. Nicest of all were six girls carrying grey chiffon umbrellas as the bells of jellyfish and their grey costumes representing tentacles. In a scene change King Neptune, trident on arm, sat on his throne. Another dark visual took us into the witch’s evil lair. Sage also didn’t forget tradition. So against a grand palatial staircase the final grande finale and pas de deux took place.
Sage and Mervyn Williams’ costumes give character to each character in the story. Chiffon tails attached to shaded green body tights created the effect of legless mermaids; Sage’s port de bras and purple outfits brought a sense of wickedness to the Sea Witch and her Sea Snake attendants; Szybkowski wore tie-died blue tights, arm and head bands; the prince wore white tights and a brown jerkin before changing into traditional white jerkin for the grande pas de deux with Paterson in a gorgeous, glittering traditional white tutu.
Music at the core
Music is at the core of every ballet and Sage marries excerpts from Leo Delibes’ Sylvia and La Source, with parts from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Enjoyable as the music is, one questions the suitability of music about a huntress and a hunter for an underwater ballet.
In telling the story concerning the mermaid who gives up her voice to the Sea Witch in order to become human and marry her Prince, Sage uses many mime gestures. If you understand these they tell the story easily. If you don’t …
Sage is no master choreographer. His penchant for arabesques and classroom choreography, left CTCB’s soloists and corps de ballet unchallenged. Never have Szybkowski nor Nusser performed in such a lacklustre manner. Both have good elevation. However, excepting Nusser’s entrechat six series, neither showed this off nor performed their solos with any energy.
As for Johnny Bovang as the Prince’s father – when will someone teach him to walk in character when wearing heeled shoes? That it is heel first, not toe first.
Were it not for Paterson, Theunissen and Ward, this Little Mermaid could be classed as a reasonably good school performance. Certainly not a professional one. Very disappointing.
What: The Little Mermaid
Where and when: Artscape until 6 January 2019
What’s on: Theatre Guide