THE LITTLE MERMAID – Fabulous Revival by SF Ballet, ends Sunday, 5/8

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

THE LITTLE MERMAID has emerged as a fully-realized contemporary classic. This encore production by San Francisco Ballet of its 2010 US premiere is a mesmerizing combination of classical expectation and modern expression. Choreographer John Neumeier’s keen sense of style and timing produces a perfect union of panache and pathos. He has also designed the sets, costumes, and lighting. The vision is distinct and unforgettable. The provocative score by Lera Auerbach is miraculous. Known for her stylistic freedom and use of sensual melodic lines that ebb and flow through riptides of atonality – Auerbach has provided the ideal soundscape for these dual realms of land and sea, and the conflicts of desire and unfulfilled love. The Little Mermaid echoes the romantic tragedy of Swan Lake, exposing our hearts to the pangs of eternal longing. As with Tchaikovsky, Auerbach makes prolific use of a solo violin (Roy Malan) to color and punctuate the dramatic flow. The finale invites the imagination towards hope as it lifts its principal subjects – the mermaid and her creator/counterpart, “the Poet” – to an ambiguous starry wonderment. The Little Mermaid was commissioned for the Royal Danish Ballet and debuted in Copenhagen in 2005. It is the “Hamburg Version”, presented in 2007, which has been re-staged at SF Ballet. Performances continue tonight, Tuesday, May 3rd, and will play consecutively through Sunday afternoon, May 8th. Make it part of your world. This Little Mermaid is not intended for young children.
Click here for ticket information: The Little Mermaid

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets
Photo, Erik Tomasson

Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan
Photo, Erik Tomasson

The principals for the Opening Night performance included Pascal Molat as “The Poet”, Yuan Yuan Tan as “The Mermaid”, Tiit Helimets as “Edvard/The Prince”, and Sarah Van Patten as “Henriette/The Princess”. Neumeier’s various ensembles include “the Magic Shadows”, a Noh trio that supports the mermaid in her prone swimming positions, stretching the long fabric of her leggings to suggest her tail and fins as she glides through the ocean waters. Davit Karapetyan appeared as the anti-hero, “The Sea Witch”, the controller of spells and the seductive presence of evil. Once the mermaid has declared her love for the Prince and her wish to abandon the sea world, the witch and his entourage of masked thugs put the mermaid through the grueling act of removing her tail and fins, casting her upon the shore with newly-formed legs. He re-appears on the wedding day of the Prince and Princess and offers the bewildered mermaid – now a bridesmaid – a magic knife. It is her ticket back to the sea. Just plunge the dagger into the Bridegroom Prince and by the time he is cold dead, she will have re-gained her mermaid form. She can’t do it. The rejected mermaid must remain human and learn to live with a broken heart.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan
Photo, Erik Tomasson

Yuan Yuan Tan & Sarah Van Patten — Tiit Helimets & Pascal Molat
Photo, Erik Tomasson

The plot line of Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is like none other. A silent Prologue reveals that “The Poet” – representing Hans Christian Andersen – is heart-broken in losing his beloved, “Edvard”, whose impending marriage dashes all hope of their being together as lovers. There is no doubt that Andersen was enamored of a number of attractive men throughout his life and told them so. Whether any variety of sexual exchange ever occurred is still up for grabs, but the evidence of his passion and longing is clear and available.

The Author and his love interests:

Hans Christian Andersen and Edvard Collin

Harale Scharff, Ballet star
Carl Alexander von Sadchsen Weimar Eisenach

Some suggest Andersen was technically a virgin, even with the few women he was linked to. His not-so-attractive appearance and awkward – perhaps “effeminate” – social manners did not make him the most inviting of casual sexual encounters or long-term liaisons. Andersen channeled his pain and energies into literary success. The Little Mermaid is Hans Christian Andersen and, thus, his most enduring creation. The author uses his gifts in a most extraordinary manner, going far beyond a writer’s empathy and the sense of standing in someone else’s shoes. Rather, he transforms himself, surrendering his heart, mind, body and soul into the Totally Other – a mermaid hopelessly in love with the ideal and totally unavailable Prince Charming.

In my recent interview with the romantic hero of the opening night performance, principal dancer Tiit Helimets offered his hit on the relationship between the Mermaid and the Prince and how he developed his character.

“It was great to be “a person” on the stage again,” says Tiit Helimets. “We do a lot of modern ballet that doesn’t always require a personality. It was nice to portray something again – to have thoughts and ideas. The whole experience of working with John Neumeier was very, very rewarding in the sense that that’s what he was looking for. He wanted it to be a person – not just to do steps. The story was more important. Your feelings, your emotions, how you relate to the other characters – all very important. For me to portray a character such as “Prince Edvard” was very interesting. He’s a little bit nicer than “Albrecht” in Giselle – he doesn’t want to hurt “Mermaid” and he doesn’t know that she’s in love with him. He’s just a nice guy and really doesn’t understand. He just has this fascination. Maybe he thinks that Mermaid is extremely cute, like a little sister. That’s how I see it. He loves her dearly, but not sexually. So, I try to be very clear, when I’m projecting energy towards Mermaid, that it’s very friendly, very respectful. More like a father looking at his child rather than looking at a love interest. Playing with that kind of focus was very interesting for me.”

Click on the photo to order tickets on line:
Photo, Erik Tomasson

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:

Telephone: 415-846-2475

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