The Joffrey Ballet’s The Little Mermaid – Mounts Chicago Premiere Of John Nueumeier’s Hauntingly Beautiful Vision

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The Joffrey Ballet is closing out its 67th season with the Chicago premiere of John Neumeier’s beautifully haunting interpretation of the Little Mermaid. A gripping vision of shadows and colors, his world-renowned production of author Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 tragic folklore follows the tormented mermaid heroine on a journey between the divergent worlds of land and sea, one utterly complex, the other magnificently serene.

The Little Mermaid Joffrey Ballet Cast

The Little Mermaid is currently at the historic Lyric Opera House (20 North Upper Wacker Drive) in downtown Chicago, only staying for ten performances (April 19-30th, 2023). With sets and costumes of the grandest scale, this critically acclaimed production is the largest-ever in The Joffrey Ballet’s history. This production is exquisite, yet tragically heartbreaking, with a perfect cast of the most talented dancers from around the world, a beautiful and original music score composed by Lera Auerbach, set and costume design of the grandest scale by Neumeier, and some of the most luminous imagery and special effects I have ever seen in a ballet production.

Yoshihisa Aria (The Sea Witch)

The Little Mermaid features an original score by Lera Auerbach, that combines a variation of intoxicating harmonies with the use of the theremin, to convey the beautiful, otherworldly voice of the mermaid. 

If you are a fan of Walt Disney’s version of the Little Mermaid, then put that out of your mind when you see the Joffrey Ballet’s version at The Lyric Opera! The ballet is far different from Disney’s version where everyone lives happily ever after. This version involves a mermaid who saves a ship’s captain, also a prince, from drowning after a terrible storm at sea. Awakened by a group of people on shore, after the mermaid saves him, the prince mistakes his scope for a human, a princess, and they instantly fall in love with each other. The mermaid seeks help from the Sea Witch, and becomes human with two legs. However, the mermaid is tortured as she is forced to watch the prince and princess’ love grow, thus ending up suffering the human emotions of pain,  disappointment and unreturned love. 

(L to R): Victoria Jaiani (The Little Mermaid), Anais Bueno (Henriette, The Princess), Dylan Gutierrez (Edvard, The Prince) and Stefan Goncalvez (The Poet)

The entire Jeffrey Ballet cast was phenomenal, especially the principal dancers including Victoria Jaiani (The Little Mermaid), Dylan Gutierrez (Edvard, The Prince), Anais Bueno (Henriette, The Princess) and Yoshihisa Aria (The Sea Witch). Jaiani was mesmerizing to watch with her dancing, amazing flexibility and body movements. Her acting was phenomenal and carried the entire ballet, as she sacrifices her mermaid tail and becomes human to try to get the prince to fall in love with her. She was literally a “fish out of water,” awkward on new legs, trying to fit in with the humans on land.  Her pain, suffering and disappointment are all highly evident throughout the show. 

Victoria Jaiani (The Little Mermaid)

I also must rave about the impressive lighting, set design, costumes and choreography! Everything was visually appealing with surreal scenery, as the scenes went from under the ocean with merfolk to above with land and humans. There were flowing blue water and waves with the use of thin blue, curvy lights that represented waves and then lighting during a storm. A small ocean liner floated along at the top during the boat scenes. The mermaid costumes were simple, but  expressive, complete with flowy, blue outfits, that made them look like they were gracefully swimming through the water with their tails. 

Victoria Jaiani (The Little Mermaid) and Stefan Goncalvez (The Poet)

Let’s also not forget to discuss the Poet (Stefan Goncalvez), who spends most of the story walking awkwardly around stage pining for his love for Edvard/The prince, who is not returning it. It seems as if the little mermaid is the poet’s creation, or a symbol of what he cannot have, and the pain he goes through when experiencing unrequited love. The parallel story between the two was fascinating, as each experience of the Little Mermaid connected back to the poet. 

The Little Mermaid is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. I do not think that this ballet is for everyone, especially if you are looking for a happy ending. As you watch the story and the mermaid’s fate transpire, along with the poet (her creator), you end up realizing that getting what you so desperately yearn for does not always bring happiness as a result. 

Photos: Cheryl Mann

Tickets: Call 312-386-8905 or Joffrey Ballet website for more information.


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