Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

‘The Little Mermaid’: Bringing the Sea to Stage

Eugene Ballet enlists an array of artists to bring a beloved underwater fairytale to life.

|

Eugene Ballet presents “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Photo by Aran (Ari) Denison.

The captivating magic of Danish author Hans Christan Anderson’s tale of “The Little Mermaid” is alive and well. First published in 1837, the story of a mermaid from an underwater kingdom who falls for a human prince has since been turned into musical theater, anime, opera, film, and ballet. Now Eugene Ballet artistic director Toni Pimble has taken on an ambitious reimagination of the fairytale, which will debut on May 20-21 with live music performed by Orchestra Next.

When considering a story to choreograph, Toni Pimble was looking for something that appealed to all ages, but didn’t want to pander to children. “They are so very open to a sophisticated presentation of a fairy tale. Our classical ballets ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Swan Lake’ are great examples of this genre,” says Pimble. “The more I delved into the music of Debussy, the more convinced I became that ‘The Little Mermaid’ had the potential to be a sophisticated, beautiful work of art.”

Eugene Ballet presents “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Photo by Aran (Ari) Denison.

Pimble engaged artisans from a variety of disciplines in the challenge of creating an underwater world on stage.

She started talking to artist Steven Oshatz several years ago about her vision for the ballet. Oshatz is a painter, photographer, and silk designer who founded a silk design and manufacturing studio, Tancho Images, in Eugene. He took on the task of creating a massive 50-foot silk drop for the underwater scenes in the show.

A behind the scenes look at the making of Eugene Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Video courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

“Creating the 30 by 50 foot silk drop for the underwater scenes was a daunting task,” Oshatz said. He airbrushed each 30-foot silk panel in striking shades of blue and green to give a sense of both the depth and movement of the ocean. Eärendil Biskup, Eugene Ballet’s associate technical director, helped create these silk scenes.

“I take a lot of pride in being a stagehand and everything that goes with that,” said Biskup, “and to be a part of a company that lets me be an artist, too, is pretty spectacular. In each detail, whether it’s the musicians, costumes, or dance, everyone has that personal investment. It is their art and taking pride in all of the details is what the audience ultimately gets to experience.”

Oshatz and Biskup also created smaller silk panels hand painted to resemble stormy waves. Dancers flitter across the stage with the silks attached to long poles, which are used to enable seamless changes between under and above water scenes.

Sponsor

Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon

A behind the scenes look at the making of Eugene Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Video courtesy of Eugene Ballet.

The dancers in the underwater scenes move in flowing, sinuous movements that reflect the movement of the waves of silk. “Choreographically, all the underwater folk have open port de bras movements that give the sense of constant movement in the water,” says Pimble. “The mermaids were the biggest challenge. I created costumes with a sense of a tail and ruffles like gills. They are half skirts leaving the front of the dancers’ legs free to move. I made rehearsal skirts knowing the costume would inform the movement of the mermaids. They did not inhibit movement as much as I initially feared. The little mermaid is initially a joyous creature, and her first entrance reflects this with two mermen partnering her in a swooping, diving lift.”

In addition to choreographing the performance, Pimble designed, sewed, and sourced the fabric for every underwater character’s costume. The underwater fabrics are shimmery with details that look like seaweed and gills. Headpieces were handcrafted by Angella Wilger and Dana Hansler and are intricately embellished with shells, jewels, and glitter to look like imagined aquatic creatures.

Eugene Ballet presents “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Photo by Aran (Ari) Denison.

Oshatz also used his silkscreening skills to create three life-like sea creatures: a blue-ringed octopus, a leafy sea dragon, and a blue glaucus. Local artist Caroline Barnes then turned these striking silks into the sea creatures that Eugene Ballet Academy students float across the stage in underwater scenes.

In contrast to the vibrant blues and greens of the underwater world, the costumes by designer Axel Dāzee for the characters on land are in pastels, whites, and creams. “The above the water scenes are completely contrasted with light-colored costumes on a white ship with the ocean beyond giving a bleached by the sun effect.” explains Pimble. “Above the water, I consciously returned to a more contained port de bras and a more classical vocabulary. We even added a Bournonville pas de bourrée in one of the men’s dances acknowledging both Anderson and Bournonville’s Danish nationality.”

Eugene Ballet presents “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless tale of the mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Featuring music by Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next. Photo by Aran (Ari) Denison.

The music of composer Claude Debussy played live by Orchestra Next, a Eugene-based training orchestra which puts aspiring young orchestral musicians alongside professional musicians, will heighten the drama of this tale of being torn between two worlds. Brian McWhorter, Orchestra Next’s music director, prepared the arrangement of Debussy’s famous composition, “La Mer,” along with some lesser-known works. “It’s just this wash of color with these hints of phrases sometimes or these moments when something kind of pops out, but it’s in this atmosphere,” says McWhorter. “It’s gorgeous music, it’s fun to play, and I hope it’ll be just as fun to listen to.” 

Each retelling of this classic story brings a fresh sense of wonder, and Eugene Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid” promises to be a feast for the senses.

Tickets and showtimes

“The Little Mermaid with Orchestra Next” runs May 20 at 7:30 pm and May 21 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are priced from $25 to $60, with $15 youth and college tickets (with valid ID) and are available at https://eugeneballet.org/performances/little-mermaid/ at the Hult Center Ticket Office in person and by phone at 541-682-5000.

Sponsor

Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

***

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

Jean Zondervan does communications work and enjoys creating content for causes. She has written and produced collaborative projects for print, web, exhibits, and video and has a particular interest in exploring environmental and social issues through the arts. Prior to settling in Portland, she taught English as a first and second language in Texas and South Korea, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and a small gallery in England, and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She currently tends to kids, pets, and a large garden in North Portland.

SHARE:
Triangle Productions presents Eleanor starring Margie Boule Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Newport Performance and Visual Arts Centers Newport Oregon Coast
Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon
City of Hillsboro Walters Cultural Arts Center She's Speaking Live! Hillsboro Oregon
Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series Willamette University Salem Oregon
Portland State University College of Arts William Shakespeare Measure for Measure PSU Portland Oregon
Portland Chamber Orchestra Young Artist Competition University of Portland Free Event Portland Oregon
Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
Tilikum Chamber Orchestra Lake Oswego High School Fairy Tales and Folk Songs Lake Oswego Oregon
Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
White Bird Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Northwest Dance Project Sarah Slipper Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Corrib Theatre Contemporary Irish Theatre Portland Oregon
Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington
Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
White Bird Dance Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Newmark Theater Portland Oregon
High Desert Museum Sensing Sasquatch Indigenous Art & Knowledge Bend Oregon
Oregon Cultural Trust donate
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.