The Little Mermaid wanted nothing more than to have legs to run on the beach and dance with a prince. Instead, she was born with the tail of a fish. In creating a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett was challenged by the human physique. "Dancers have two arms, two legs. You can't have fins no matter how hard you try," Taylor-Corbett said during a recent BalletMet Columbus rehearsal of The Little Mermaid, which isn't derived from the 1989 animated Disney movie and subsequent stage musical.
The Little Mermaid wanted nothing more than to have legs to run on the beach and dance with a prince. Instead, she was born with the tail of a fish.
In creating a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett was challenged by the human physique.
“Dancers have two arms, two legs. You can’t have fins no matter how hard you try,” Taylor-Corbett said during a recent BalletMet Columbus rehearsal of The Little Mermaid, which isn’t derived from the 1989 animated Disney movie and subsequent stage musical .
Another challenge: creating an under-the-sea look onstage without water.
Beginning on Friday, audiences will see how the choreographer-director addressed such issues when her colorful underwater adventure full of finned and gilled creatures is performed for the first time by BalletMet Columbus — and only the second time anywhere.
Taylor-Corbett, of Long Island, N.Y., created The Little Mermaid last spring for Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, N.C., where she is a principal guest choreographer.
She sought to make a kid-friendly ballet, and the fairy tale with a female protagonist and emphasis on family provided the opportunity.
“It’s a story about youthful indiscretion — sort of not realizing that you are giving up something important to get what you want,” she said. “It’s about second chances.”
To open, the program will include the 25-minute Napoli, set in sunny Naples, Italy. The 70-minute Little Mermaid will be performed in what Taylor-Corbett describes as one exciting act.
The sea witch — who sports black, octopuslike tentacles — rides around on an 8-foot throne pulled by her two evil sidekicks, the “terrible tentacles.” Sequined blue sea horses gallop across the stage while young dancers from BalletMet Academy perform as goldfish.
Dancers will perform to a tape of Michael Moricz’s original score, with Broadway actors singing the parts of the characters.
The production is more like a musical than a typical ballet, said Attila Bongar, who performs the role of the Sea King, the Little Mermaid’s father.
Bongar was a dancer with the Carolina Ballet for 12 years before joining BalletMet in July; he also played the Sea King last spring.
He said the cast finds The Little Mermaid energetic but not as technically challenging as many other ballets.
“We are coming off a pretty harsh season (including Dracula, Romeo & Juliet and The Rite of Spring), and it’s nice to go onstage without a lot of pressure,” Bongar said. “ It’s fun, very light and upbeat.”
Projections help create the underwater effect. When Prince Christian, the mermaid’s human love, falls out of the boat, he is shown sinking in the ocean.
Taylor-Corbett, who has choreographed for Disneyland’s production of Aladdin and an adaptation of The Lion King for a Disney park in Hong Kong , said The Little Mermaid is one of the few ballets — even among those based on fairy tales — geared toward children.
“It doesn’t have long, sustained dances,” she said. “It has a lot of humor, and it’s romantic.”I n recent weeks, BalletMet’s costume shop has resembled an aquarium. Red crab shells made from spongy fabric and a sea anemone headdress with yellow tentacles sprouting from it hung in the shop.
In the underwater scenes, the Little Mermaid and her two sisters wear sparkly, aqua tights with fabric elements that are more symbolic than truly finlike, in order to accommodate dancing. When she emerges onto land, the fin is more pronounced.
Erin Rollins, assistant costume-shop manager, said the challenge has been to make an above-water fin in which the mermaid can move.While wearing the fin, Emily Gotschall, who alternates in the title role with Adrienne Benz, can only sit, scooch or be lifted by another dancer.
The role is also challenging because of the Disney-related expectations attached to it.
“Her name isn’t Ariel,” Gotschall said. “She doesn’t have red hair; she has brown hair.”Still, she said, the role is fun.“She’s a sweet character.”
Andersen’s 1836 tale ends on a sad note, but Taylor-Corbett wanted a happier, modern ending.The production, she said, will encourage children to use their imaginations to determine the future of the Little Mermaid and her prince.
Said Rollins, the shop assistant manager: “Just tell them it’s not Disney, so they don’t ask, ‘ Why does she have two legs?’??”