This Little Mermaid Ballet Is a Beautiful Tribute to Hans Christian Andersen

As a result of the virus in Corona, a lot of live experiences that are no longer available to the public are being shared online for free. One such is experience is the lovely Finnish ballet of "The Little Mermaid" produced by Oopera Baletti. Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the show in its entirety and found that it is not only a unique retelling of the fairy tale, but also a beautiful tribute to the story's original author, Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen plays a unique role in this ballet in which he acts as a storyteller as well as a fairy godmother of sorts for the mermaid character. I loved the elegant way that the mermaid ballerinas were portrayed in the show as well as the brief nods to Andersen's other famous works.


Though most of the story is told through dance, there were some short Finnish narrations throughout the show that I was unable to understand, so it's possible that some of my interpretation is wrong. If I'm not mistaken, this ballet submits to the theory that Hans Christian Andersen wrote "The Little Mermaid" as a metaphor for his unrequited love toward another man. Andersen led a lonely life and loved many women and men, but none of them shared his romantic affections. The Oopera Balleti portrays this with a scene in which Andersen appears to pine for the prince during a ball and angers the other members of the royal court. Andersen attempts to drown himself in shame when the prince takes pity on him. Unfortunately, when he attempts to recover Anderson's belongings from the dock, the prince falls into the water where he is rescued by the mermaid. Hans and the mermaid visit the sea witch together to ask for a way to win the prince's heart. After Hans regales her with the stories of "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Match Girl," the witch gives them a magic potion, but Hans chooses not to take it in order to give the mermaid her best chance.

This version of "The Little Mermaid" draws some inspiration from the Swan Lake ballet. In the same way that the Black Swan character charmed the prince away from Odette, causing her death, this show has a character who I will refer to as the "black siren," who represents the princess from "The Little Mermaid" who marries the prince after he comes to believe that she was the one who rescued him from drowning. The black siren plays a larger role in this ballet than she did in the fairy tale and her wicked intentions are less ambiguous after she steals the magic potion from Hans Christian Andersen to charm the prince for herself. The potion is the same as the one that the mermaid drinks to become human but has no physical effect on the black siren, likely because she is already beautiful and has two legs.

Hans Christian Andersen makes every effort to break up the prince and the black siren to bring him back to the little mermaid, but his efforts end in failure. After the famous scene in which the mermaid refuses to kill the prince in order to rejoin her family in the sea, the sea witch appears and creates a massive storm before she stabs the mermaid in cold blood. Only then does the prince realize that she was the one who saved him. He mourns her death along with lots of human funeral-goers who had no real reason to mourn her because the only people who knew her lived in the sea. In his grievance, the prince is finally willing to accept Hans's advances, but Hans is too saddened by the death of the mermaid to accept him. There are no Daughters of the Air in this version, and it ends with Hans Christian Andersen looking out to sea at the famous Little Mermaid statue in Denmark.


My favorite aspect of this ballet by far was the aesthetic. The long flipper shoes that trailed with flowing chiffon combined with the graceful moments of the mermaid dancers created a much better illusion of mermaids than the heelies and spring tails that Disney used in their Broadway production. I also liked the minimalist glitter pasties that the mermaids wore on their upper halves that created the illusion of otherworldly fashion. Their long flowing blue and green hair added just the right touch. The elaborate throne that the sea witch sits in during her first appearance is also incredibly impressive. The dress that the black siren wore did a great job of expressing her personality with its glittering black flowers overlaying sheer flowing fabric. Many modern shows go overboard with the use of projection effects, and I think this one uses just the right amount of CGI without drawing attention away from the performers, especially during the storm at the end.

If you love "The Little Mermaid" as much as I do, you should definitely take advantage of this unique opportunity to watch Oopera Baletti's show online for free. I was impressed by how fluidly they incorporated Hans Christian Andersen and his motivations behind writing the story without getting too distracting. It was also great how they were able to pay homage to his other stories without interrupting the main plot. With the inclusion of Hans pining for the prince alongside the mermaid, this show truly drives home the theme of unrequited love from the original fairy tale. My biggest disappointment was that mermaid was murdered at the end instead of sacrificing herself for the prince and becoming a Daughter of the Air, something I expanded on in my own version. This ending diminished her sacrifice and freedom of choice.

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