Stage & Dance

In 'Little Mermaid,' Bluegrass Youth Ballet makes a few sea changes

Jellyfish rehearsed their bows as The Bluegrass Youth Ballet rehearsed The Little Mermaid on Sunday. Photo by Mark Ashley
Jellyfish rehearsed their bows as The Bluegrass Youth Ballet rehearsed The Little Mermaid on Sunday. Photo by Mark Ashley Herald-Leader

Adahli Aranda Corn says she hopes a familiar tale told in a magical way will entice children and adults new to ballet, developing young people's interest in dance while generating a broad audience.

In her role as artistic director of Bluegrass Youth Ballet, Corn has developed an original ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid.

More than 130 young dancers will bring a mythical underwater seascape to life this weekend at Lexington Opera House.

"Just to give you an idea of all the roles that we are playing, we have dolphins, a school of fish, jellyfish, red flowers and sea anemones, striped fish, clownfish, crab, seahorses, angelfish, lionfish, eels, sailors, a beautiful sea dragon that is a big puppet, the witch and the mermaid sisters and, of course, our prince, and many more" says Corn, who cites the BBC nature documentary Blue Planet as an inspiration for the underwater realm.

Vivian and Larry Snipes, directors of Lexington Children's Theatre, will make special appearances as the king and queen of the mermaids.

Corn acknowledges that the popularity of Disney's film version of The Little Mermaid is a potential draw for new audience members, but she decided to focus on Andersen's classic version as her source material.

"When Disney has taken a lot of these stories and made them into movies, the good thing that has happened is that they become very popular," Corn says. "But the bad thing is that that is how we know them. Most of the time, the original stories of Rapunzel or the Little Mermaid are so far from what we know."

While Corn avoided the Disney version of the fairy tale, she embraced the idea of taking creative license with Andersen's ending.

"When I read the Hans Christian Andersen story, it was really dark," she says. "I loved it; it was so mysterious and mythical. But it's also very dark, and if we stuck with the original story, I don't think children would come out of the Opera House smiling.

"I took the best elements of the original story and transposed them into ballet, which is a little tricky since we don't have any speaking. Then I changed the ending so that we have a little twist."

The "twist" is unlike Disney's or Andersen's version and should be an entertaining surprise for the audience.

Corn says another unique element of her ballet is the eclectic choice of music, from the "new agey" music that accompanies the dolphins to the stormy strains of Rachmaninoff,

"Music is one of the trickiest parts of creating a ballet," Corn says. "I wish I had a composer next to me to say, 'Hey, let's do this or that.' I have to spend hours and hours listening to different kind of music.

"Before I choose the music, I kind of map out the story, then I go look for music that sounds like a storm or like the Little Mermaid is planting her flowers or sounds like conflict."

Corn says she is envious of Hollywood composers who can tailor music to the story, rather than the other way around.

"I have to adapt to whatever the music tells me," she says. "Sometimes I find the perfect music, and it is too long or too short or it changes in the middle."

The production also will feature narration in English and Spanish to fill in important elements of the back story that do not translate to the stage.

"I was born in Mexico, so I am always trying to promote the Spanish language," says Corn, who adds that the narration in Spanish will be inviting to Latinos and educational for Spanish students.

"By narrating bilingually," she says, "we are embracing something that is not very commonly touched on in the arts."


'The Little Mermaid'

What: Bluegrass Youth Ballet performs director Adahli Aranda Corn's adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale

When: 7 p.m. May 3, 2 p.m. May 4

Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.

Tickets: $17.50 adults, $14.50 seniors and ages 3-12; available at (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or

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