John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet performed a very edgy Little Mermaid at Segerstrom Center for The Arts in Orange County Feb 8th, 2012.
Making his mark in Germany for 40 years and creating over 150 choreographies, Neumeier is clearly a genius in his roam. Holder of the Order of the Federal Republic of Germany, Knight of the Legion of Honor and receiving the Nijinsky Award for Lifetime achievement, he has indefinably proven a gift for story telling, presenting exquisite dancers with not only impeccable technique but also great acting ability.
As the artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet since 1996 Neumeier has created his dance Emporium by opening a Ballet school in Hamburg and molding his own dancers for the company. He is also founder of the John Neumeier Foundation with which he is bringing together his collection of dance and ballet related objects, securing his life’s work.
Drawing frequently from Classical and Western Literature such as Homer, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Dumas and Arthurian legend, Neumeier has been giving his works a more modern dramatic framework while still focusing on the preservation of Ballet tradition.
That is very apparent in his version of The Little Mermaid where a charming mermaid fights her fate of becoming a very dark creature after loosing first her tale, then her voice and lastly her mind falling for an unavailable prince.
Originally choreographed for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005 and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s folk tale Neumeier’s production is stunning but dark and mysterious partially because of the intense musical score of Lera Auerbach, a composer born in Siberia. Her score consisting mostly of circus inspired marry-go-around music and lots of crescendos inspires the audience little. One can hardly enjoy the first act. Too much drama in the music crowds the dancers and gives no room for the audience to enjoy the different variations. Some small passages like the scene with the schoolgirls and the nuns remind of once beautifully composed scores of such greats like Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky but little time is spent to develop a captivating melody that the audience can remember and take home.
Even if you were to compare her music with such great contemporaries such as Stravinsky, there are only few moments where the score allows the audience to take in the beauty of the choreography and the dancers. There is just little to no follow through in melody.
Silvia Azzoni does an amazing job portraying the many moods of the suffering mermaid. Her upper body work and fluid arms in the first act are setting the mood of underwater life and despite the long pants and her being passed around between three male dancers dressed in black lifting her high up in the air to convey her swimming, she never looses her train of thought. Terrifying are also the oversize pants in which she dances for a whole hour. They represent fins and make her feet invisible. One can still see the precision in which her movements are executed that when finally those oversized pants come off the audience embraces the experience of the mermaid memorized watching her learn the use of her feet and legs, a rather painful yet fascinating passage in the Ballet.
Neumeier also challenges his two other soloists by putting them in double roles: Helene Bouchet as Henriette and the princess, has the quality of a Balanchine ballerina, beautiful port de bras (arm movements) exquisite quick foot work and legs for days. Carsten Jung in the double role of Edvard and as the Prince, both two very different characters, shows equally lyrical qualities for a man and morphs from aristocrat to immature Edvard. With gorgeous feet, perfect turn out and fluid turns and jumps he seduces the mermaid, his fiancée and also the audience.
The corps de ballet, all gorgeous dancers dressed in fabulous costumes with lots of technical precision, seem a bit under worked and kept mostly in the background. Neumeier seems to favor the male dancers of the corps the ballet and showcases his pretty choreography in passages for the gentlemen rather then the ladies.
Alexandre Riabko, as the sea witch looks like a character out of an old Japanese opera and gives with his movements and his musical and visual queues the sea life another dark side.
Llyod Riggins represents the poet and is floating between both worlds as a narrator and spectator. His portrayal is believable and keeps the audience connected to keep watching the story.
Neumeier’s set designs and costumes are brilliant, elegant and very thought through. He uses neon lights and floating ships to convey the waves and the depth of the ocean and places the little mermaid in a constricted geometrical room to show her psychological struggle.
Neumeier’s Little Mermaid is certainly not commercial like Disney’s version but will appeal to the artistic avant-garde crowd.
The elaborate production features more than 60 performers at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and continues through Sunday.
For more information go Online: scfta.org
Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Through Sunday. 2 and 7:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday
How much: $25-$100
Length: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Suitability: Older children and adults