SFB 2010 The Little MermaidCasts and reviews
Posted 22 March 2010 - 11:51 AM
Added later: Just got an email from the company. "There are no plans to film this ballet at the moment."
Posted 22 March 2010 - 06:32 PM
Added later: Just got an email from the company. "There are no plans to film this ballet at the moment."
The DVD isn't available for public viewing -- Because I had to file my story in advance of the opening of the ballet at the weekend, the press department at SF Ballet kindly allowed me to come in to the office to view a DVD of the Hamburg performance.
Posted by Chloe Veltman to work at March 22, 2010 9:14 AM
It's interesting too that on another board there are some rapturous comments about Sarah Van Patten's performance on Sunday afternoon. I'm going to be seeing both Tan and Van Patten over the weekend.
Posted 22 March 2010 - 07:56 PM
Posted 23 March 2010 - 07:48 AM
I'll be very interested to hear your comments on both performances!
I found a couple more reviews if anyone is interested:
Rachel Howard of San Francisco Classical Voice http://sfcv.org/revi...s-under-the-sea
and Ann Murphy of the San Jose Mercury News http://www.mercuryne...ent/ci_14732376
Posted 27 March 2010 - 06:32 PM
Cast: Sarah Van Pattan:Mermaid; Pierre Francois Vilanoba:The Prince; The Princess:Vanessa Zahorian;Sea Witch:Garen Scribner;Poet:Pascal Molat.
John Neumeier's the Little Mermaid is about as far from Disney as a work of art can get. Nor is it Hans Christian Andersen Danny Kaye style... it's Hans Christian Andersen, tortured gay man in love with a straight man who just got married and doesn't really give Hans' infatuation a second though style. That one. So he then wrote a heartbreaking story about the ultimate outsider whose profound love for a man wasn't returned and it killed their bodily existence. Someone who is completely divorced from their body (Andersen was pretty much a gay man who died a virgin despite an unconsummated infatuation with Jenny Lind) And this story provides the basis for one of the most striking and moving ballet/theater performances I've ever seen.
It's a curious combination of a lot of styles and, of course, Neumeier's dark dramatic choreography. Some sections really reminded me of Antony Tudor ballets. Others reminded me of Robert Wilson and Lucinda Childs. Sometimes I felt as if I was watching a silent film with Lilian Gish or a butoh performance. The end reminded me a lot of Graham's Clytemnestra. And in the middle of it all is the role of a lifetime for the right dancer. I know Yuan Yuan got wonderful reviews and opening night... but I can not imagine should could have performed this better than Sarah Van Patten.
Van Patten is an incredible actress... I've seen this hinted at in a lot of roles, but here, she's just amazing. Sometimes she's a bratty teenager, other times a spirit of beauty, sometimes ET the extra-terrestrial, Petrushka, other times the aforementioned Lillian Gish playing the Little Match Girl. She is at once heart breaking and miraculous and, not to put any other dancers down, I can't them doing this role as well as her. One thing Van Patten has is completely convincing look of goofiness, vulnerability and awkwardness which I don't see either Tan nor Feijoo having to the same degree. Van Patten's incredible performance in the claustrophobic room scene at the beginning of the second half was burned into my heart and mind. Her incredible solo at the end, after she's unable to murder the man she loves had me crying. I don't cry at the ballet too often. If you see her doing it at some point in the future, bring a good pair of opera glasses, because her face and eyes are miraculous.
Close behind was Molat's Poet. The Poet (basically Andersen) mirrors much of what goes on in the ballet. It sounds hokey but it works brilliantly here. His self-loathing, sense of failure, helplessness and need to express himself come through beautifully. Garen Scribner was the Sea Witch... a wild combination of Carabosse, Michael Clark (the punk Nijinsky) and the late performance artist Leigh Bowery. It has to be the more queertastic/off the wall characters I've ever seen at SF Ballet (which can be kind of stodgy and... um, heterosexual at times). His incredible dance with the Little Mermaid towards the end involving the knife is one you won't forget. Nor his S&M crew always shadowing him and doing his dirty work. The most incredible scene of all was when the Little Mermaid loses her fin and gets her legs. First off, a warning, it is an incredibly brutal scene... almost more like a rape than an act of magic. It has a violent power which both revulses and attracts. You realize it's a pact with the devil and truly understand what she's going through for the love of her human. I just kept finding myself saying "girl, please don't do this, please, it's NOT worth it."
And then there's the humans. Needless to say, Neumeier doesn't have a high regard for the human race. They are boring and vapid and petty and vain. The main iconography for the Prince, the man the Little Mermaid is destroying her body for, is a golf club. I didn't need this production to cement my dislike of golfers in general (sorry, I'm bigoted) and golf culture... but if you don't feel like cramming that golf club down his throat by the end of it... you're inhuman. Vilanoba looks gorgeous (as usual), plays the unconscious vapidity perfectly and was a wonder in the storm scene where he's rescued by the mermaid. Along with the Prince was Vanessa Zahorian as the Princess... basically a spoiled debutante who moves through the world with a sense of privilege the Little Mermaid will never have. Zahorian gets it dead on. In the second act, she's joined by a corps of, what almost look like a group of Jackie Kennedys (well, in fuller skirts) with pillbox hats and a righteous belief the world is made for them. The male corps, the sailers, provide more eye candy (in a very homoerotic, muscular way in their first act dance) and as an officer corps at the prince and princesses' wedding, a counterpart for the pillbox girls.
There are so many scenes which stand out in this production... the opening (all silent, no music) involving Andersen's love object getting married, the storm, the incredible transformation scene, the perverse and sarcastic ship scene, Van Patten's tour de force at the beginning of the second act and the maddening wedding. It's all incredibly vivid.
That is not to say there aren't some dead moments. The first half alone is 1hr 20mins and, before the transformation scene, there were a few times I was NOT liking Lera Auerbach's atonal marathon (nor about 10 mins which could have been cut... but I don't think Neumeier plays that game). The score livens up a lot starting with the transformation scene. The score has some definite high points... I loved, again, the transformation scene, the sailor's dance, and ship scene and all of the second half. Again, there was a lot of not terribly interesting music earlier in the first half. There are some witty musical quotes throughout the piece which always surprised me wafting through and then vanishing. Mostly, it is a dark score and I wondered if a little more variety would have made it even more powerful.
Neumeier also designed the brilliant set. Especially loved the light tubes which create the waves and the Mermaid's bedroom which looks like something from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Special mention has to be made of what is maybe my favorite scene change of all time... when they literally change the angle of the ship onstage in open view. Scenic magic which reminded me a lot of Robert Wilson's work like Einstein on the Beach. Neumeier also designed the witty costumes which feature both retro camp and a sense of wickidness which reminded me of the costumes in "The Hard Nut"... only darker.
This is an incredible new work to have in their repertory. I'm glad Helgi is actually taking some chances this year and bringing some pieces with a more post-modern edge. I can't imagine how wonderful the Little Mermaid must be to perform and it is a real stretch.
Apart from a few flat stretches in the first half, the Little Mermaid offers the darkest kind of magic and the most sublime expression of unrequited love. If you can see it with Van Patten... so much the better, but just see it. How very sad there are only 2 more performances of it left this season.
Posted 28 March 2010 - 11:51 AM
It sounds like SF Ballet did really well with The Little Mermaid in ticket sales and the crowds certainly must have liked it what with all the standing ovations I read about in the reviews. Someday I'd like to go see The Little Mermaid, now that I'm prepared for what I'd be seeing!
Posted 29 March 2010 - 07:43 PM
On Sunday I saw Yuan Yuan Tan's performance and while she couldn't match Van Patten's emotional intensity, this was by far the best thing I've ever seen Tan do. She was astonishing in the underwater scene -- perfect for that rippling flexibility she has. Her land-based mermaid was less successful that Van Patten's -- Tan seemed more fully human -- albeit frail, breakable. But given that Tan isn't known as a actress, she came through emotionally, though without Van Patten's subtle shadings.
A detail I liked about both performances -- not sure if it was deliberate or not -- but in Part II, when the mermaid is on land with her new legs, while all the other female characters wore new, shiny pointe shoes, the mermaid's shoes were old, dirty, frayed -- as if she's been given second hand feet.
Overall I enjoyed the ballet a lot more than expected, although I have to agree with some of the criticisms voiced here and elsewhere. It's hard to believe the story couldn't be considerably streamlined, even with the addition of the Poet. Some bits simply went on too long for the limited value they added to the story -- the sailors, some of the shipboard; entertaining, yes, but really not necessary. By the end, it felt like Neumeier was throwing in everything, including apparently some refugees from Halloween at Hamburger Mary's. Ultimately, I decided just to accept the ballet on its own terms for what it is (eccentric), and not worry about what it isn't (Swan Lake) -- helped a lot.
Before the performance, I went to the Meet the Artist interview with Pascal Molat. A couple of tidbits about next season: Molat said he was looking forward to playing the Poet in The Little Mermaid again next year, so it sounds like it will be back. Also, he mentioned that Wayne McGregor would be at SFB next season, although he didn't say for what, new ballet or staging something existing. And after the interview was over, Molat introduced his new baby boy, who is named -- are you ready for this -- Matisse. Little Matisse (who's about four months old) glared at the audience for a few seconds and then broke into one of those baby smiles that reduces 200 intelligent adults to puddles of jelly. Tough act to follow.
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