San Francisco Ballet Presents ‘The Little Mermaid’ 2011-A Preview


“If you are living in a Paradise, how strong must be the love that inspires you to leave?”~John Neumeier, Creator of The Little Mermaid

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(Note: All of the photos featured in the slideshow above and galleries below are published here with the express permission of San Francisco Ballet)


Mermaid Musings

(Note: The following is a ‘Preview’; please go here for Odette’s 2011 Review of Opening Night’s The Little Mermaid)

Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson


Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson

      San Francisco Ballet’s 2011 production of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is set to open Saturday, April 30, 2011, with this year’s encore presentation promising possible casting surprises (remember Lorena Feijoo’s 2010 interview, in which she discussed her preparation for her portrayal of ‘The Mermaid’ in SFB’s Program notes), and the thrill of seeing a live performance being filmed for DVD, national and international broadcast. (click here for complete details). 

SFB’s 2010 The Little Mermaid brought us to our feet, night after night, in appreciative and thunderous ovations for two of the Company’s most talented dramatic ballerinas, Yuan Yuan Tan and Sarah Van Patten. If Lorena Feijoo finally gets her chance this season, we can expect a Mermaid Triple Threat of fine acting skills to take it up another notch.

Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson

To The Little Mermaid virgins, those who will be attending their first performance of this ballet, let me state in no uncertain terms:

Leave the kiddies at home, peeps. San Francisco Ballet’s web site does make it clear that this is not a ballet for kids, yet I saw parents with very young children in the audience last season, in spite of the warning. (I also saw these same parents rushing out of the Opera House, crying children in tow, before the first intermission.) No further explanation should be required, but for those of you with the attitude that your darling precious ones are mature enough to handle the content in this ballet, you are wrong; this ballet is not anything remotely like the Disney version.

John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is based on the original Hans Christian Andersen story of extreme yearning and loss, with a dark twist of alienation and despair brought about by a Faustian deal with the Devil-in this case ‘The Sea Witch’; its adult themes are powerful, multi-layered, and sometimes deeply disturbing and emotionally devastating. The Mermaid’s scene of magical transformation, when she acquires the legs she believes will bring her close to the man of her dreams, is violent; we are made aware of the pain and anguish of her transition to human. In this ballet, our Mermaid is sometimes wheelchair-bound.

There are strong ties between ‘The Poet’ in this ballet and ‘The Mermaid’; indeed ‘The Mermaid’ is his creation, representing ‘The Poet’s’ never-to-be fulfilled great love and passion for the man called ‘Edvard’, a figure also mirrored by ‘The Prince’.


 Yuan Yuan Tan & Lloyd Riggins in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson


If you’re wondering what redeeming qualities John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid has, there are many and they are equal to even the darkest of this ballet’s themes. There is frivolity (Pauli Magierek shimmying herself silly in a party scene), hilarity (Alana Altman and Lily Rogers in nun’s habits and shades, a hilarious male corps of exercising beauties), and the ignorant innocence of ‘The Princess’, full of light and joyous exuberance, a bride in which we can be envious. 

But most of all, there are the performances of the leads.

Last season’s career crowning performance by Yuan Yuan Tan, in the title role, earned her a well deserved Isadora Duncan Dance Awards nomination. Sarah Van Patten, SFB’s newest dramatic ballerina, danced in every single performance, alternating in her roles as both ‘The Mermaid’ and ‘Henriette’/’The Princess’. Neither ballerina’s commitment to the role of ‘The Mermaid’ can be questioned; the blood, sweat, and tears were evident in each and every ‘mad scene’ during the entire run. Indeed, Sarah suffered a split lip during one explosive mad scene and thus left her mark on the stark whiteness of her stifling prison (the white box that represents the Mermaid’s loss of self). Our two Mermaids pounded that box with a fury that required constant touch-ups of white paint throughout the run, as well as stage hands pushing against the doors at the back of the ‘box’ to insure that our Mermaids didn’t accidentally break through.

Choreographer John Neumeier, with help from SFB Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson I imagine, chose his cast very carefully and we benefited from every single casting choice.

In 2010 we were fortunate to have a full house of dramatic artists in all the major roles; aside from YY and Sarah as ‘The Mermaid’, we were treated to SFB’s light and effervescent Vanessa Zahorian’s portrayal of ‘The Princess’ on nights when Sarah Van Patten was ‘The Mermaid’, Tiit Helimets and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba took turns with the role of ‘Edvard/’The Prince’, Davit Karapetyan and Garen Price Scribner (holding his own in this sea of Principal Dancers) alternated as ‘The Sea Witch’ (an incredibly physical role), and no less than three powerful and poignant ‘Poets’ performed for us, Damian Smith, Pascal Molat, and Lloyd Riggins (who also helped ‘set’ the ballet here) on loan from Hamburg Ballet, where ‘Mermaid’ choreographer John Neumeier is Artistic Director. 

Though ‘The Poet’ is not a true dancing lead in the usual sense, he is the dramatic lead who appears onstage during most of the ballet and as ‘The Mermaid’s’ creator/counterpart, John Neumeier has billed his ‘Poet’ as the actual male lead of the ballet. He has a whole repertoire of props, ranging from an umbella (which he hides behind when terrified) to a teddy bear. But so rich and densely detailed is this ballet, it might take you 3-4 viewings to catch it all. I’m completely serious. When Tiit Helimets is on stage (and as ‘Edvard’/’The Prince’, he has plenty of dancing with both ‘The Mermaid’ and ‘The Princess’), you cannot take your eyes off him. It’s a bit tricky, really. For every moment one watches one dancer, one misses some small but crucial gesture of another’s. I know Peeps that went 4-5 times last season…that never saw the Poet with his teddy bear. Trust me-it’s not that they weren’t observant. The ballet is just that deep.

I mean, seriously Peeps…you have to only imagine what else might be happening onstage for a grown lovelorn man to be embracing a teddy bear. It’s an intense moment.

For all of The Little Mermaid’s intensity, there is Beauty. The ballet challenges us with its parallel story lines, expanding our own limits as observers. There are layers upon layers of visual interest (this is one of the most spectacular sets one can hope to see, very cinematic in feel, and designed by John Neumeier, as are the costumes and lighting), brilliant choreography (again, John Neumeier) and dancing, life-changing dramatic performances, a haunting musical score composed by Lera Auerbach (and featuring the siren sounds of the ghostly ‘theremin’, played by the specially recruited Carolyn Eyck), and a balletic story that begins in the fluid depths of the oceanic Mermaid’s home, winding its way through the hectic chaos of the earthbound humans, and taking us finally to the heights of the starry skies.

John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid had its first incarnation at its Royal Danish Ballet World Premiere on April 15, 2005, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Hamburg Ballet version (Mr. Neumeier’s own company) premiered on July 1, 2007, in Hamburg, Germany. The ballet’s third incarnation premiered with the San Francisco Ballet version on March 20, 2010, is San Francisco, CA. I will never forget it.

Three things:

1. Go

2. Read The Little Mermaid story here and SFB Program Notes here. (<Click on the words “here”). I don’t normally insist, but your ‘Mermaid’ experience will benefit greatly, in this instance

3. Read the 2010 reviews and assorted goodies following the photo of John Neumeier after the gallery below; there are links to an interview with John Neumeier by Rachel Howard, ‘Costuming a Mermaid at SF Ballet’ by Tamara Straus, and a very amusing story about one man’s ‘Mermaid’ experience

4. Additional 2010 ‘Mermaid’ cast photos are now here.

The Little Mermaid Teaser

The Little Mermaid Excerpts

The Little Mermaid Preview

The Little Mermaid-Behind the Scenes

The Little Mermaid Trailer

Hamburg Ballet Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier rehearses his production
of “The Little Mermaid” with the San Francisco Ballet. Photo: Erik Tomasson
The Reviews:
Dance review: ‘Little Mermaid’ casts spell <Allan Ulrich’s Review
San Francisco Chronicle
Tiit Helimets, our regulation Petipa danseur, communicates the prince’s narcissism to perfection.
Cast against her natural temperament, Sarah Van Patten is …
Underneath the sea <Paul Parish’s Review
Bay Area Reporter
Standees were thick on the Opera House rail for the opening night of The Little Mermaid, … San Francisco Ballet’s Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in The Little Mermaid. …At all times, she carried the show (brilliantly supported by Tiit Helimets, the golden-god Estonian premier danseur who played the Prince). …
 San Francisco Ballet The Little Mermaid San Francisco Ballet Star Shines Under the Sea 
San Francisco Classical Voice
“This is for her,” another critic said to me Saturday during the rapturous standing ovation that greeted the U.S. premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid at the San Francisco Ballet. My colleague was referring to Yuan Yuan Tan, the Chinese-born, exquisitely delicate ballerina, who for more than two hours had let herself be maimed, disfigured, pushed about in a wheelchair, rejected, and humiliated as the titular sea creature in Neumeier’s violent saga…The mermaid falls for a prince who looks strikingly like Edvard (played with boy-toy innocence by Tiit Helimets); redemption for both the mermaid and her …
‘Little Mermaid’ ballet not intended for kids <Rachel Howard’s Interview with John Neumeier
San Francisco Chronicle
“The biggest mystery of San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 season is this week’s U.S. premiere of John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid.” Neumeier, for 37 years the director of Germany’s Hamburg Ballet, hasn’t taken any cues from Disney: His …Yuan Yuan Tan is one of the mermaids in John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid,” … of “Swan Lake” to dance versions of dramas like “A Streetcar Named Desire. –
Poor Changeling – danceviewtimes <Rita Felciano’s Review
What it doesn’t have is a first rate ballet. John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid ,”
 … Dores Andre’s small solo as one of the bridesmaids showed lovely brio …
Spencer Alley: Yuan Yuan Tan <By “Benjamin” (in response to Rita Felciano’s Review) 
Yuan Yuan Tan. John Neumeier’s ballet version of The Little Mermaid makes its North American premier this week at San Francisco Ballet. I saw it with a friend tonight, and am already counting my lucky stars that I’ll see it again with a …
Spencer Alley –
Mermaid Revisited < More from Spencer Alley’s “Benjamin” 
San Francisco Ballet ‘Little Mermaid’ Review from <Renee Renouf’s Review
Yuan Yuan Tan and Lloyd Riggins in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid © Erik Tomasson , San Francisco Ballet Click image for larger version, or one that fills the …
Taking a Children’s Tale to Dark New Depths <Chloe Veltman’s Review of the ballet, (not of the dancers)
New York Times
In John Neumeier’s ballet adaptation of “The Little Mermaid,” the title character undergoes an extreme physical ordeal so that she might live on land. As the orchestra plays a stomping series of cataclysmic chords, a malevolent sea … Mr. Neumeier captures Andersen’s descriptions of physical torture by creating dance steps that make the principal ballerina in the role of the Mermaid (portrayed alternately in San Francisco by Yuan Yuan Tan and Sarah Van Patten) look, …
homepage –

Dancing away Andersen’s ‘Mermaid’ <By: Janos Gereben
San Francisco Examiner 
Tiit Helimets danced the Prince with teenage bravado; he was properly clueless when around the adoring Mermaid, a callous Pinkerton to her Butterfly…


<By Lydia E. Ringwald 
The Laguna Journal
All Fairy Tales have a lesson and Neumeier’s ‘Little Mermaid’ follow suit:   For a relationship to function, we must be loved for who we are…
San Francisco Ballet’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ Dives into Dark Waters  <By Katie Gaydos 

The Daily Californian
 San Francisco Ballet premiered “The Little Mermaid”, a new full-length ballet with choreography by John Neumeier, at the War     
 Memorial Opera House last weekend. But don’t …Read More» 
Saturday Matinee » Review: 2010 San Francisco Ballet’s The Little … <Popular Arts Blogger
San Francisco Ballet presented the U.S. premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid … Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. ……/review-2010-san-francisco-ballets-the-little- mermaid/
SF Ballet’s The Little Mermaid Reviewed: It’s a Bewitching Tale …
By Becca Hirschman <Popular Arts Blogger on Sarah’s Mermaid
This week, San Francisco Ballet brings John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid to life, but don’t characterized this ballet as “little”. It’s one larger-than-life, intricate, and creepy story that presents forward thinking, cutting edge, …
SF Appeal: Culture/Entertainment – Guide
San Francisco Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid” stuns the audience, visually and psychological. In its recent US premiere, Yuan Yuan Tan was a compelling …
Spectacular Little Mermaid Ends, New Shows at San Francisco Ballet …
By sfcitizen
Katie Gaydos: San Francisco Ballet’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ Dives into Dark Waters. And here’s what’s coming up: Program 6. “Haffner” Symphony Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson …
Matthew Felix Sun – Art · 文化 · Kunst: Rethinking Hans Christian …
By Matthew Felix Sun (Blogger) 
There were fantastic performances from five principal dancers – Yuan Yuan Tan (Mermaid), Tiit Helimets (Prince), Sarah Van Patten (Princess), Damian Smith ( Poet) and Davit Karapetyan (Sea Witch). Tan has always been amazing in modern …
Matthew Felix Sun – Art · 文化… –
^by SFB Ballet Master Ricardo Bustamente
San Francisco Chronicle (blog)
On the opening of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid this past Saturday night, San Francisco Ballet received a roaring standing ovation…
This next one features 16 seconds of Act 2 live from our Opera House stage: 
Just Jon: Part Of Your World . . . <Hilarious blog about one man’s SFB The Little Mermaid experience
By Just Jon
Later that week I was standing on the corner waiting for a bus when I saw a sign that said the San Francisco Ballet was going to be doing a production of The Little Mermaid. Shut up! This is perfect, because frankly I was a little …
Just Jon – 

Thursday, March 25, 2010
San Francisco Chronicle
The costume of ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, shown with Tiit Helimets, conveys the mermaid’s transformation into a human being. As a boy, John Neumeier was torn …
 SFIEC assists SF Ballet « San Francisco Institute of Esthetics and …
By strikemarketing
SFIEC prepared two of the San Francisco Ballet’s male dancers for the Little Mermaid show on March 15, 2010. They were in full body make-up as part of their wardrobe and the San Francisco Institute’s Owner and three senior students …
San Francisco Institute of Esthetics… –


Welcome to My Mermaid Scrapbook:
  (Yes, I borrowed this^ from Hamburg Ballet’s site, hence the Deutsch!)
Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier's The Little Mermaid (copyright Erik Tomasson)
Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle
Davit Karapetyan as The Sea Witch with attendants, ‘The Magic Shadows’, Garen Price Scribner, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, and Gaetano Amico in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson  
Yuan Yuan Tan & Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson  
Yuan Yuan Tan & Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle 
Yuan Yuan Tan & Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle
Yuan Yuan Tan & Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan & Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle
Yuan Yuan Tan & Lloyd Riggins in San Francisco Ballet’s 2010 U.S. Premiere of Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson                     
Tiit Helimets & Yuan Yuan Tan, with Lloyd Riggins in the background, in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Michael Macor/The Chronicle

Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson  
Yuan Yuan Tan & Elizabeth Miner in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson
Tiit Helimets & Yuan Yuan Tan, with Sarah Van Patten as the Bride, in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson   
Tiit Helimets & Yuan Yuan Tan, with Sarah Van Patten as the Bride, and Madison Keesler & Dores Andre as Bridesmaids, in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson   
Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo © Erik Tomasson 

Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid; Photo: Erik Tomasson


Stay tuned for “Mermaid Musings” Part 2, where we will explore the ballet on Neumeier’s own Hamburg Ballet
SFB’s Head Mer-Leader,
Teri McCollum
(See You at the Ballet!)
Scroll waaaaaaaaay down for comments on this one…

About Odette's Ordeal

'Ballet's Head Cheerleader'
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2 Responses to San Francisco Ballet Presents ‘The Little Mermaid’ 2011-A Preview

  1. Nancy Curtiss says:

    Great write-up, and I agree with just about all of it. When Ulrich reviewed TLM last year for the SF Chron I was furious, as he didn’t seem to understand it, much less appreciate it and having been deeply moved by it, I was bothered by that. I too saw it when it opened on 3/20/10 and again this year on its 2011 opening night, Saturday 4/30. The cast was almost the same save for Pascal as the Poet instead of Lloyd Riggins as when I saw it last year. Pascal was great too, and once again I found this ballet spellbinding from beginning to end. I’m very excited that this year, I get to see it a second time with the alternate cast! It truly is a very special ballet and one I hope sticks around for a long, long time.

  2. Pingback: John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid” « ballerinagallerina

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