Kim’s Song of the Mermaid didn’t avoid the darker elements of Anderson’s story, but tempered them with skillfully wrought full ensemble divertissements, making a final, heartrending scene stand out in dramatic relief as the principals met their fate.
The ballet began with the Mermaid (an enchanting Seonmee Park, a gifted dancer/actress, who alternates with Soobin Lee) discovering and saving the life of the Prince (Kimin Kim, who possesses a fantastic classical technique) causing the Mermaid to fall in love and want to marry the Prince.
Impeded by her father, the Sea King (an imperious Seokjoo Kim) in her desire to be with the Prince, she turns to the Blanket Octopus (a charismatic Hoiwoong Ryu) who transforms her into a human so she can be with the Prince, a decision that will lead to tragic consequences.
Kim’s choreography displayed a mastery of ensemble management, knowing how to fill a stage with crisscrossing lines of dancers, tickling the eye with a parade of lifts, turns, jumps and constantly changing stage pictures.
She also knows how to combine storytelling mime with dance. The moment when the Mermaid first experienced her human legs was both poignant and humorous as she wiggled her toes and stretched her legs out in amazement, taking a few wobbly steps to test them out. A love duet for the now human Mermaid and the Prince was soft, its steps tender and its lifts expressions of the emotions of the moment.
The divertissements, although well choreographed, tended to look alike, saved by the exuberant dancing of the corps de ballet. Kim wisely broke up the ensemble bits with exciting virtuoso exhibitions, most especially a high-flying duet by the Prince’s Friends (Seongjun An and Seongwoo Ryu) who nearly stopped the show.
Hana Ryou’s score was almost cinematic in scope, a rich forest of melody and musical effects supporting the choreography with great skill.
Kyuchul Ahn’s fanciful scenery, with its moveable set pieces took the audience to Hans Christian Andersen land, via Korea.
Even more than the scenery and the choreography, Bohwa Song’s costumes told the story with wit, color and imagination. It’s mindboggling how Song created all the different denizens of the sea (including the wicked Blanket Octopus plus the elegant “human” costumes—especially the gorgeous tutus—of the members of the Prince’s court.
All the undersea life—including a helpful Sea Turtle (Eunsoo Lee, graceful, despite his carapace), Shrimp, Crabs, cute-as-can-be Baby Crabs, Starfish, Seahorses, Blue Fish and Red Fish—were inventively ensconced in multi-layered fabrications.
The makeup and hair designs by Insuk Lee, Seommi Jin and Hae-suk Lee were the finishing touches to the costumes.
Soon Youp Kwon’s brilliant lighting and Jungnam Hwang’s video projections (particularly those of the sea) added greatly to the storytelling.
The K-Arts Dance Company impresses mostly by the exuberance of its dancers, every one of whom appears pleased to be on that stage entertaining an audience, showing off their special talents.
This engagement was sponsored by the Valentina Kozlova Dance Foundation in its endeavors to preserve the legacy of classical ballet.
Song of the Mermaid (October 20-21, 2018)
New York City Center, 151 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission