Arts & Culture

Carolina Ballet’s ‘Little Mermaid’ crafted to appeal to young and young at heart

Dancing the part of “The Little Mermaid” will be Carolina Ballet principal dancer Margaret Severin-Hansen, reprising her role from five years ago.
Dancing the part of “The Little Mermaid” will be Carolina Ballet principal dancer Margaret Severin-Hansen, reprising her role from five years ago.

How does a principal ballerina dance with a mermaid’s tail?

It takes trial and error and some clever wardrobe manipulations.

“The tail was cleverly constructed so she could move some,” says Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” for ballet.

The story about a beautiful, young mermaid living in the sea is a well-loved tale with a handsome prince, kings and queens (of land and sea), sea creatures and, of course, a villain – the sea witch. Taylor-Corbett brings traditional ballet, original music, Broadway narration and projected images to the story for the Carolina Ballet’s production, which is returning to the company’s repertoire after a five-year absence.

It opens this week at the Fletcher Opera Theater in downtown Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center.

“The story is sort of heartbreaking,” choreographer Taylor-Corbett said in a recent phone interview. “It’s sort of a Romeo and Juliet story of the sea.”

In addition to the whole dancing with a tail issue, Taylor-Corbett said she faced other challenges in crafting the ballet, which she hopes appeals to adults and children alike, but especially children. “I myself can get tired of long-form ballet. I wanted to give children ballet that they can embrace. I tried to imagine what young children are used to seeing. They’re used to seeing fast-moving, colorful things on TV and at the movies.”

So the ballet has 30 dancers and moves quickly. She uses voice-over to help the audience follow the story line since ballet can be more symbolic, and added projected film images of the prince struggling to survive a shipwreck after he falls into the sea. She also created characters, such as a pair of “Soft-Shoe Crabs,” as she calls them, to supply humor. There’s also a swordfish, blowfish, seahorse and starfish.

Six gullible goldfish are performed by six children, who trained at local ballet schools and have danced in the Carolina Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

“I think what you do is grab the imagination and run with it,” said Taylor-Corbett, who said the fairy tale was was a favorite of hers.

Taylor-Corbett said she didn’t limit herself to ballet vocabulary, but used tap and jazz to match, for instance, her sea creatures’ personalities. She decided to create, moreover, a sea witch that was larger than life, add a throne for her, provide a couple of henchman with tentacles, and also throw a birthday party for drama.

The choreographer is hardly a newcomer to Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. She has staged “The Ugly Duckling” before for the Carolina Ballet. Her “Mermaid” has been presented by the Colorado Ballet and the Ballet Met of Columbus, Ohio. She has also created work for American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Her credits, moreover, include Tony nominations for the Broadway show “Swing!” for best director and best choreography.

Dancing the part of the Little Mermaid will be principal dancer Margaret Severin-Hansen, reprising her role from five years ago, along with company member Haley Jennings. Original music, along with lyrics, was composed by Michael Moricz.

And about that tail, remember, the mermaid trades her beautiful voice and tail for a pair of legs that allows her to dance as no one has danced before. Perfect for a ballet.


What: “The Little Mermaid” adapted for ballet. Also on the program, “Petit Ballet Romantique” by the Carolina Ballet’s artistic director, Robert Weiss. It will be set to the music of Leo Delibes.

When: 8 p.m., Thursday-Friday, Feb. 2-3, 1 and 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 4, Feb. 11 and 18, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, 12 and 19.

Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E South St., Raleigh

Tickets: Start at $35 plus fees


Fairy-tale life

Hans Christian Andersen wrote “The Little Mermaid” in 1837, when he was 32. His many fairy tales have been translated into more than 125 languages, second only to the Bible.

As Andersen was growing up in Denmark, his family lacked money. His father was a shoemaker, his mother a washerwoman. He left home at age 14 to become a singer and an actor in Copenhagen and then began publishing while still in his 20s.

In his autobiography, Andersen wrote that he began life as a poor, friendless boy and then it was like a good fairy met him and decreed his life to be a lovely story. During his lifetime, Andersen wrote not only fairy tales, but poems, novels, plays, letters, his diaries, his autobiographies and travelogues. He also created numerous sketches as he traveled to other countries, and made lovely, haunting papercut-outs. He considered his fairy tales to be written not just children, but for everyone.