Thursday, April 20, 2023

REVIEW: Joffrey Ballet’s Chicago Premiere of The Little Mermaid April 19–April 30, 2023

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With sets and costumes of the grandest scale, critically acclaimed production is the largest-ever in Joffrey’s history

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Guest Review 

by Flo Mano

This is not your ordinary/ common/ well known Disneyfied Little Mermaid. In John Neumeier’s unique interpretation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, he weaves a complex and intense portrayal of unrequited love and the resilience of the human spirit.

With choreography, sets, costumes, and lighting, all by Neumeier, this ballet is as much theater as it is dance! John Neumeier is truly a jack of all trades and choreographer extraordinaire!

In the opening scene we see the deck of a ship with a giant, blue neon line spanning the stage, resembling the shape of waves below it. As the ship’s Captain, Edvard (Dylan Gutierrez) and his guests celebrate his wedding day, the Poet (Stefan Goncalvez), dressed in a black top hat and a redingote wipes away a tear. As the music begins, he slowly delves in the deep-blue ocean, and thus begins a Mysterious, magical, beauty of a production, revealing the depths of the choreographer’s imagination. 

We enter a sapphire-serene-swirling-smooth underwater wondrous world! The Mermaid’s wide-legged silk pants added fluidity to her ethereal movements, fanning out like fins when she is held aloft to “swim.”

This Mermaid, danced with grace and emotion by (Victoria Jaiani), falls for the Prince (Gutierrez) and trades her fins for feet, with the help of the very forceful and passionate Sea Witch (Yoshihisa Arai), who flies like a Japanese Samurai.

Neumeier elevates a fantasy into a sophisticated portrayal of psychological transformation. The stylised, dramatic, nonverbal format demands the dancers venture into deeply emotional terrain in order to convey the ballet’s full message.

Requiring strong athleticism by the entire company, the choregraphy is at times very modern and frantic. The sailors were amazing! 

The Mermaid is treated poorly on land and rejected by the prince who marries a princess (Anais Bueno) instead. As Ariel is treading on an emotionally disturbing path, we see the world through her eyes. She’s ultimately driven to madness by the nightmarish atmosphere, feeling trapped and claustrophobic by ceilings and walls.

The earth world, which she so desired, turns out to be a poor tradeoff for her prior life. After re-creating herself, at the cost of extreme personal pain, she discovers life as a human has sharp edges, and is very difficult. We visibly see the physical, searing pain she endures, as she walks on the feet she so wanted. 

At last the poet arrives to pick up the pieces, and lamenting alongside the Mermaid, he sheds his clothes, and bare chested they dance in a passionate and uplifting last pas de deux uniting their minds and souls.

The score by Lera Auerbach sets the scenes, evoking both atmosphere and the emotional tone/discomfort of being out of one’s element. 

This fable about personal sacrifice, unconditional love, and failures, ultimately leads not to tragedy, but to endurance in an unexpected togetherness.

Photo Credit: Kiran West

This visually stunning ballet is a force of wordless emotions and a must see. 

Flo Mano is a CPS elementary teacher/librarian, hairdresser, and theater/film fanatic who catches hundreds of Chicago shows annually. She volunteers at numerous film venues and theaters.

The Joffrey Ballet closes its 67th season with the long-awaited Chicago premiere of John Neumeier’s beautifully haunting interpretation of The Little Mermaid. 

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

A gripping tableau of shadows and colors, Neumeier’s world-renowned production of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 tragic folktale follows the tormented mermaid heroine on a journey between the divergent worlds of land and sea—one utterly complex, the other magnificently serene. With sets and costumes of the grandest scale, this heartbreaking tragedy, based on Andersen’s original and complex themes, will mark the largest production ever mounted by The Joffrey Ballet. The Little Mermaid will be presented at the historic Lyric Opera House, 20 North Upper Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago, in ten performances only, from April 19–April 30, 2023.

In The Little Mermaid, Milwaukee-born, Hamburg Ballet Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier blends dance, dramatic storytelling, and spectacle into a stunning interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fable. The story follows a mermaid who saves a ship’s captain--a Prince--from drowning after a terrible storm at sea. Awakening to a group of onlookers on shore, the Prince mistakes his savior for a human Princess for whom he falls instantly in love. Begging for help from the underwater Sea Witch, the mermaid receives a human body with two legs—but as she watches the Prince’s love for the Princess grow, she suffers the pain of human disappointment and the heartbreak of unrequited love.

Neumeier created The Little Mermaid for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2005 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s birth. Received with critical acclaim, the cautionary tale has since toured with premier ballet companies around the globe. The Little Mermaid is Neumeier’s tour de force, featuring his original choreography, sets, and costumes that come together to create a ballet that is as much theater as it is dance.

"John Neumeier's adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is a poignant depiction of the complexity of unrequited love and unwavering resilience," says The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE. "At its heart, the story proves the strength of the spirit, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The production's choreography and stage design beautifully illustrate the contrasts between land and sea, and hope and despair. Neumeier's emotional journey reminds us that no matter how fervent, and although sometimes unreturned, love is a powerful force which transforms us into our best selves."

President and CEO Greg Cameron adds, "Marking the largest production ever mounted by the Joffrey, the long-anticipated Chicago premiere of The Little Mermaid closes out an extraordinary season of milestones, including the record-breaking remount of Anna Karenina, which became the highest-grossing non-Nutcracker production in the Joffrey's history. This season's closer is a stunning interpretation, bringing to life one of Hans Christian Andersen's most revered tales."

The Little Mermaid features an original score by Lera Auerbach that combines moody harmonies with the use of the theremin to convey the beautiful, otherworldly voice of the mermaid. Live music will be performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet.

Ticket Information
The Joffrey Ballet presents John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid from Wednesday, April 19–Sunday, April 30, 2023 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 North Upper Wacker Drive. The full schedule is as follows: Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 PM; Friday, April 21 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, April 22 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM; Sunday, April 23 at 2:00 PM; Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 PM; Friday, April 28 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, April 29 at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM; and Sunday, April 30 at 2:00 PM.

Single tickets start at $36 and are available for purchase at Lyric Opera Box Office located at 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr. and by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at

Photo Credit: Kiran West

About The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet is one of the premier dance companies in the world today, with a reputation for boundary-breaking performances for more than 60 years. The Joffrey repertoire is an extensive collection of all-time classics, modern masterpieces, and original works. 

Founded in 1956 by pioneers Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey remains dedicated to artistic expression, innovation, and first-rate education and engagement programming. The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE and President and CEO Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of its 2022–2023 Season Sponsors: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, The Florian Fund, Anne L. Kaplan, Nancy and Sanfred Koltun, and Live Music Sponsors Sandy and Roger Deromedi, Sage Foundation, and The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music. The Joffrey also acknowledges Season Partners Chicago Athletic Clubs, and Athletico Physical Therapy, official provider of physical therapy for The Joffrey Ballet.

Special thanks to The Little Mermaid Major Production Sponsor Ethel & Bill Gofen, and Production Sponsors Pamela Crutchfield, Jeanette Stevens, and Ron & Ann Waters.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit Connect with the Joffrey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: Kiran West

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