Following The Snow Queen, who has danced in Prague‘s National Theatre since March 2016, the NT ballet company has brought on stage another heroine of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen – The Little Mermaid. Ice is melting and both child and adult spectators are moving from the winter kingdom to the world under the sea. The well-established team prepared an original ballet score with the music libretto by Zbyněk Matějů, choreography by Jan Kodet and direction by the acclaimed duo SKUTR (Martin Kukučka, Lukáš Trpišovský). Three years ago, the same group of authors successfully staged the story of Krabat – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the National Theatre. Now we have the possibility to plunge into the great fairy tale about unfulfilled love of a mermaid and a human prince, set in the environment so natural for dance – the world of water.No wonder the choreographer has chosen this particular theme. Having enough experience choreographing the dances for the operatic piece Rusalka, he naturally longed to create a full-length ballet about Rusalka’s far relative, the Little Mermaid. It should be appreciated that the authors stayed faithful to Andersen’s original story with unhappy ending and did not prefer the Disney adaptation, so familiar to many children but having little to do with the tale of the Danish writer.From the first tones of the overture we are drawn into the magic waters of the sea and its creatures, contrasting with the human world on the seashore. The Little Mermaid is a dreamy young girl, observing the sea surface and imagining the world above it. It is not necessary to tell the whole story here but it is important to emphasise the skilfully made scenography, crowned by the light design (Daniel Tesař) and projection (Lunchmeat, Jakub Kopecký). All these elements, including the costumes by Alexandra Grusková, give an excellent, yet moderate, illusion of the fairy world, without too much glitter or bubbles. The ambient music also evokes the water kingdom, as it makes use of various kinds of tinkling and glissandos.
The choreographer Jan Kodet works with his stable, well-known movement vocabulary. There is the effort to create movement inspired, or rather driven, by water but Kodet still dwells in the home harbour of his copyright choreographic style and unfortunately does not dare into the risky waters of experiment. Some corps de ballet scenes seem to be too lengthy, the duets, on the contrary, do not offer much juicy choreographic “flash” the audience could bite in. The direction does not lack interesting ideas and the spectator is supposed to be constantly drawn into the story, although the second half of the show does not run as smoothly as the first one.
At the first premiere, the central character was embodied by Magdaléna Matějková who portrayed her heroine as a naive girl that fell for the prince and did not understand her affection was not returned. Matějková’s expressive means were limited, though – in the key scene of the prince’s wedding with the foreign princess, the attention is paradoxically turned more to the wedding celebration than to the emotions of the rejected and misunderstood mermaid. Her partner was Ondřej Vinklát, whose character did not need to be a prince, as he seemed more like a harbour dandy. The mermaid’s grandmother, danced by Tereza Podařilová, was a dignified leader of other maids both in dance and in the drowning of poor sailors, while Michaela Wenzelová’s Witch fulfilled the role of mysterious being helping the protagonist.
Although TheLittle Mermaid in the National Theatre does not lack the atmosphere and good staging ideas, it seems that the performers are stuck behind a sort of ‘water wall’ and do not have the proper emotional impact on the audience. By and large, the piece is a good addition to the repertoire of family shows.
Written form the premiere held on 10 November 2016, in The Estates Theatre.
The Little Mermaid Libretto: Jan Kodet, Martin Kukučka and Lukáš Trpišovský Music: Zbyněk Matějů Choreography: Jan Kodet Direction: SKUTR (Martin Kukučka and Lukáš Trpišovský)Scenography: Jakub Kopecký Costumes: Alexandra Grusková Lighting design: Daniel Tesař Projection: Lunchmeat and Jakub Kopecký Animation: Erik Bartoš and Jan KolegarPremiere: 10 November 2016
Translation: Tereza Cigánková