Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Little Mermaid

I was so privileged to be able to see Sarah Van Patten dance the title role in The Little Mermaid and Garen Scribner dance the part of the Sea Witch in the San Francisco Ballet production of choreographer, scenic, costume, and lighting designer John Neumeier.
While this was modern ballet at it's finest, and while consummate artists are at the core of every aspect of the tour de force that is The Little Mermaid, it must be stressed that Sarah Van Patten could not have taken on a greater role to express her artistry (at least for this moment in time). Beyond the obvious talent and athletic ability of the artist, the dancer Van Patten exactly embodies the tragedy of sacrifice for love both specific to the story, and more generalized, along with the tormented darkness of the rejection of that love to which all has been lost. Suffice it to say that it is nothing short of a miracle how she is able to show us the anguish of simultaneous flight from her own oceanic world and the grace of her every movement there, to transformation of her body: accompanying legs for the first time, the crippling pain thereof, her balletic expressivity of the gracelessness of foreign new limbs. Her social world too has been sacrificed; this new heavy, earthly world of gravity and human hierarchy is totally alien to her. The mermaid's tongue has been cut out for the beautiful voice contained therein by the Sea Witch, the evil exchange that ultimately alienates the mermaid. She cannot even tell her story, nor explain to the object of her love that she saved him from drowning, and that is how she came to love him.

The original star of the story of course is Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote the story two-hundred years ago. As a child I swam in the bathtub, pools, and oceans of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Venice, California pretending that I was a little mermaid, while I read Andersen's tale over and over. Let's just finish this little piece with the understanding that in too many ways Disney mangles every story it gets it's hands on. The best way for children to learn of the real tragedy of life (and all about life, as preparation for growing and development) is to read the original literature, and to see the greatest art that has been spun from the original.

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