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Auerbach: The Little Mermaid [DVD]

Auerbach: The Little Mermaid [DVD]

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Also available on Blu-ray

Subtitles: German, French
Booklet: English, German, French
No. of Discs: 2
Run time: 134 minutes
Disc Format: DVD
Picture: NTSC, 16:9
Audio: PCM Stereo, PCM 5.1
Bonus Material: The little Mermaid- behind the scenes
Region Code: 0 (worldwide)

R E V I E W:


AUERBACH The Little Mermaid Martin West, cond; John Neumeier (choreography); Yuan Yuan Tan ( Little Mermaid ); Lloyd Riggins ( Poet ); Tiit Helimets ( Prince ); Sarah van Patten (Princess ); Davit Karapetyan ( Sea Witch ); San Francisco Ballet; San Francisco Ballet O C MAJOR 708608 (2 DVDs: 119:00 + 35:00); 708704 (Blu-ray: 119:00 + 35:00) Live: San Francisco 4/30–5/7/2011

Bleak, brutal, and heartbreaking, John Neumeier’s dance adaptation of The Little Mermaid is likely to traumatize those children it does not baffle; this is a thoroughly adult account—inspired by certain aspects of Hans Christian Andersen’s life as well as his source story—of sexual repression, longing, and denial, and the literally disabling nature of unrequited love. The Mermaid, after saving a dashing Prince from drowning, falls in love with him and wants to pursue him onto land. But to do so, she must be stripped of her tailfin, which Neumeier presents as an agonizing flaying; the Mermaid’s new legs and feet, awkward and weak, are so useless that she spends most of her time on land despondent in a wheelchair. The Prince, meanwhile, regards the Mermaid lightly as a funny, gangly, odd little kid sister; his romantic attention turns elsewhere. All the while, in Neumeier’s account, the story is being written as we watch by an emotionally wrung-out Poet, a stand-in for Andersen, who himself seems to have been gut-wrenched by an adored male friend who went off and married a woman. No, actually the Poet doesn’t write the story as we go; it seems to unfold almost against his will, and ultimately to his horror. The Poet shadows the Mermaid through much of the ballet, and the story ends not at all happily, but with a duet that suggests the possibility of future transfiguration after long suffering.

Neumeier, as usual, employs only some elements of traditional ballet vocabulary, melding them into movement patterns drawn from modern dance, and paying special attention to gesture and facial expression; this story is acted as much as it is danced. Yuan Yuan Tan portrays the Mermaid as a happy, graceful creature in her natural element who becomes gangly, awkward, even a bit physically ugly when she thrusts herself into a realm in which she doesn’t belong. Together with choreographer Neumeier, in the “Mermaid’s Room” scene she creates a particularly realistic and distressing depiction through movement of claustrophobia and depression. Lloyd Riggins, as the Poet, has a role that is nearly as challenging, and turns in the most poignant performance here. Tiit Helimets is a virile, athletic Prince, and manages to make his character seem obtuse but not unlikeable. Davit Karapetyan is a menacing, very physical presence as the Sea Witch, who strips the Mermaid of her tail, while Sarah van Patten is more ethereal in her more limited role as the Princess.

Neumeier designed every element of this production except the music; that task fell to Lera Auerbach, whose chamber scores, at least, often call to mind Shostakovich and the more accessible side of Schnittke. Here, wresting much color from a full orchestra (including a subtly employed theremin, associated with the Mermaid), Auerbach knits together some memorable motifs and sequences that sometimes evoke other composers without ever seeming derivative (but what about that bit in the Sailors’ Dance that sounds like an allusion to Rota’s La Strada —accidental, or sly and intentional?). Perhaps the best stylistic comparison would be to John Corigliano’s Red Violin Passacaglia, although an actual passacaglia Auerbach provides for an intricate pas de quatre is more reminiscent of early Panufnik. In other words, it’s a dark work, but something easy enough for an audience to embrace. The excellent playing of the orchestra under Martin West puts the lie to the notion that pit orchestras are the worst orchestras.

The Blu-ray edition provides clarity through the underwater murk without sacrificing atmosphere, and the DTS-HD audio track gives the orchestra realistic depth and timbral precision. The 35 minutes of interviews are actually quite worthwhile in terms of expressing the dancers’ approaches to characterization, not the usual tedium of each artist praising all the others as geniuses who are wonderful to work with.

Neumeier’s Little Mermaid is not for people who prefer the pretty, psychologically shallow old story ballets. Put the kids to bed, watch this, and weep.

FANFARE: James Reel
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Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 15, 2011

  • UPC: 814337010867

  • Catalog Number: 708608

  • Label: C Major

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: 2011-11-15

  • Composer: Lera Auerbach

  • Conductor: Martin West

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: San Francisco Ballet Orchestra

  • Performer: San Francisco Ballet Orchestra