Behind the scenes at The Little Mermaid, the brand new production from Northern Ballet

The underwater world of The Little Mermaid

The underwater world of The Little Mermaid - Credit: Archant

Performances are due to run in Sheffield and Leeds

We all know the story: young red-headed mermaid trades her beautiful voice in return for a pair of legs and sets off onto the land to win the heart of her beloved Eric. Such is the world of The Little Mermaid according to Disney. However, this winter the tide is turned as Northern Ballet brings home its third and final world premiere of 2017 with a 21st century adaptation of the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.

Dark, yet hopeful; painful, but at the same time magical; Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid packs a powerful emotional punch as the young mermaid, Marilla sacrifices her life under the sea in pursuit of unrequited love. In constant pain from her newly acquired legs, and unable to speak, Marilla’s wonderment at the human world gives way to heartbreak as she realises that the dashing Prince Adair will never love her. All she has left is a choice; to kill the Prince and return to her life as a mermaid, or sacrifice herself so he can live in peace.

The Little Mermaid is choreographed by artistic director David Nixon OBE, responsible too for the creation of some of Northern Ballet’s most recent hits including Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast and The Great Gatsby. Although this ballet doesn’t quite deliver the ‘happily ever after’ ending, Northern Ballet’s production there is world-class choreography and staging and costumes that transport audiences into the depths of a fantastical underwater world. Giant fish and glowing jellyfish swim gracefully through the mermaids’ realm. And of course, there are mermaid tails adorned with thousands of hand sewn iridescent scales which transform under the theatre lights into a dazzling extension of the ballerinas’ graceful bodies.

Abigail Prudames from Harrogate creates the lead role. She began her training at Studio 3 Dance Workshop in Knaresborough before attending The Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst School for Dance, returning to join Northern Ballet as a professional dancer in 2011. Abigail is the first to admit though that dancing with a tail is no mean feat. ‘At the beginning, the tail and I weren’t friends! I’ve had to learn how it moves and how to make it look natural. It’s safe to say now though that I feel lost without it on; it is part and parcel of being Marilla.’

Creating the lead role in an original ballet is a milestone moment in any dancer’s career, offering the chance to work one-on-one with the choreographer to shape the role that will be performed by ballerinas for generations to come. ‘This has been a really special time that I’m sure I will treasure for my whole career. It’s an exciting and unique process and every day in the studio has brought something different. This role has added another level to my dancing and I feel personally involved in this character.’

Inspired by the Celtic undertones of the original score, choreographer David Nixon chose names for the ballet’s characters with Celtic origins. The name of Abigail’s character, Marilla, means ‘shining sea’. Abigail says: ‘You would think that Marilla is quite a simple character but she isn’t. She has an immature childlike side to her and is quite naïve about the human world. She falls in love with Prince Adair and on land, is in complete wonderment all the time, fascinated by the new world around her. But the pain she experiences when she realises Prince Adair doesn’t love her is unbearable – her journey through the ballet is quite a long and emotional one, she endures a lot.’

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The world première took place in Southampton this September and now Abigail and her colleagues will travel widely to Norwich, Newcastle, Nottingham, Canterbury, Woking and Sheffield with The Little Mermaid before heading back to West Yorkshire for the Company’s annual winter season at Leeds Grand Theatre.

‘It’s very exciting backstage before a première. Everyone is always a little bit anxious because you want it to go well but personally I ride on that kind of excitement. The reaction in Southampton was fantastic and I can’t wait to perform it on tour and in front of our home audience back in Leeds.’

The Little Mermaid is at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from November 28th -December 2nd and then at Leeds Grand Theatre from December 5th–17th. For booking details see