Dreda Blow on The Little Mermaid

Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor in The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar.

2018 will be Leading Soloist Dreda Blow's eleventh with Northern Ballet. During that time she has grown into one of the Company's leading stars, performing some of the Company's most popular roles including the lead in Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre in 2016 (to be revived for a national tour in the spring) and choreographing the ballet for children Ugly Duckling with Sebastian Loe in 2012 (also touring the country in 2018).

This week she returns to our home for the Leeds première of David Nixon OBE's The Little Mermaid, for which she created the role of Dana - love rival to Marilla, our little mermaid.

We caught up with Dreda for a chat about the experience of working with David on his latest fairytale ballet, and what audiences can expect from this magical production.


Dreda, how have you found the experience of working with David Nixon to create The Little Mermaid?

'Creating a new ballet is always an exciting experience with each leg of the journey bringing new thrills and challenges as the piece grows and takes on a life of its own.

No one, not even the choreographer, knows exactly what we are going to end up with.

We all just concentrate on creating something meaningful and moving, something that will transport the audience to a new world, and hopefully resonate with them for a long time.'

Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor in rehearsals for The Little Mermaid. Photo Lauren Godfrey.

'I have worked with David Nixon for eleven years now and have been involved in the creation of many of his ballets so we have developed an open communication and a deep understanding of how the each other works.

He allows the music and the story to conjure images and movements and then describes / directs / demonstrates his ideas while we experiment with ways those ideas can be expressed in our bodies. There's usually a back and forth process between us... 'Try something like this'.... 'Do you mean like this?'.... 'Oh no I didn't, but that was interesting, keep it. Where can you go from there?' The choreography really starts to flow once we have identified the specific way each individual character moves and exactly what each character is saying.'


The Little Mermaid is the latest in a hugely popular line of fairytale ballets created by David. Northern Ballet is renowned for telling stories through dance - how do you go about this?

'Dance has a beautiful way of distilling stories and emotions to their barest, rawest form. This comes from the power of images, the nuances and complexities of touch, the intention of every movement.

Northern Ballet is a brilliant company of dance-actors. Our physical language is strong ballet technique, but a huge amount of thought, discovery and personal experience is necessary to make a story authentic, otherwise we are just doing 'steps'.

Of course the sets and costumes assist in creating a magical theatre experience, but it's the choreography and expressiveness of the performers that makes this tale of unrequited love so moving.'


So what can audiences expect from The Little Mermaid?

'The Little Mermaid is a very special fairytale to perform because many scenes are set in the 'underwater world'.

Male and female dancers are in long flowing fabrics, personifying the water, sometimes moving like gentle lapping waves, sometimes a wild and stormy sea.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Little Mermaid. Photo Jesus Vallinas

As dancers, the mermaids and water people needed to find a fluid, never-stopping movement quality to make this world truly come to life.

This isn't the Disney version of the story many audience members might be expecting.

One of my favourite scenes in the ballet is when Marilla, the little mermaid, is first given her legs. Instead of being a triumphant moment, her legs cause excruciating pain, like standing on needles. She dances a quiet, lonely and painful solo of discovery, layered with the desperation and perhaps regret she feels as she realises her deepest dream has come true only to discover the intense pain that has come with it.'

Northern Ballet dancers in The Little Mermaid. Photo Emma Kauldhar.

The Little Mermaid runs at Leeds Grand Theatre 5 - 17 December and tours to Edinburgh, Milton Keynes and Leicester in the spring.

Production photos Emma Kauldhar and Jesus Vallinas. Rehearsal photos Lauren Godfrey.