The Little Mermaid

Playhouse, QPAC (Queensland Ballet)


Beneath the sea a Little Mermaid swims with fluid grace. The story of her contact with the world beyond the sea speaks of loss and the redemptive power of love.

Innovative choreography by Francois Klaus takes us into the underwater regions where ballerinas move magically as ineffable sea creatures.

Rachael Walsh dances the Little Mermaid with beauty, innocence and pathos. It is an astonishing transformation from her savage, guileful role as Carmen a mere week before. One is reminded of the formidable versatility of Laurence Olivier in his tragic and comic Shakespearean roles.

The Little Mermaid ventures to the surface of the sea on her fifteenth birthday. There she sees a sailing ship with a prince on board. The ship is artfully represented by the corps de ballet as a fair wind gives way to a sudden storm and shipwreck. Christian Tatchev brings a regal presence to the role of the prince — rescued by The Little Mermaid who falls in love with him. Sadly, he mistakenly believes that he has been rescued by a princess, danced elegantly by Clare Morehen.

Back in the briny deep The Little Mermaid is head over fishtail in love with the prince. She makes a Faustian deal with the Sea Witch (Keian Langdon) to grant her legs on the harsh conditions that she must give up her beautiful voice and walking will always be very painful.

This is a children’s tale, but not the anodyne version marketed by Disney. It retains the dark side of the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. It is sad that a generation of children have been raised on these dumbed-down versions of children’s fables. Many young children and their parents attended the matinee session with your reviewer and were plainly moved with the delight and drama of this sad tale.

There is an exquisite moment in the ballet when the Little Mermaid is trying to move upon her newly acquired legs. To see such a goddess of dance as Rachael Walsh performing the role of a stumbling neophyte in pained clumsiness is akin to being witness to a momentary repeal of the laws of physics. The sun and stars might as well stop rolling about the heavens. It is a tribute to Walsh’s craft that she is able so perfectly to re-create those first steps that all must take who seek to walk.

Upon her return to the beach, she is taken to the prince’s court where all are charmed by her dancing though she cannot speak. Her pas de deux with the prince (Christian Tatchev) is finely moving, all the more so as she gradually realises that she cannot win the prince’s heart away from the princess.

The Little Mermaid’s sister cuts another savage deal with the Sea Witch to allow her life to be saved if she plunges a dagger into the prince’s heart before the sun rises. In a triumph of love over self-interest she throws the dagger into the sea but, by a miracle, joins with beautiful beings in white to become a spirit of the air.

After Walsh’s virtuoso performance in Carmen the audience was left to wonder whether love could survive in the face of powerful, driven beauty. Rachael Walsh soars through this question with a grand jete. Her dance enables the self to transcend its earthly bounds and move to a spiritual dimension known only by the most ancient of philosophers and the youngest of children.

Choreography and Direction by Francois Klaus
Music by Jean Sibelius, Gabriel Faure, Edvard Grieg and J.S. Bach
Costume designers: Noelene Hill and Selene Cochrane
Set designer: Graham Maclean
Lighting designer: Jason Organ
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes with one interval (20 minutes) Performances: 10 to 12 June 2011 at Playhouse, QPAC
18 June 2011, The Arts Centre, Gold Coast
24 June 2011, Empire Theatre, Toowoomba

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Fri 10th June 2011)