Southern Ballet Theatre's 'Little Mermaid' is swimming with magic

Once upon a time, there was an enchanted mermaid who shed her fins and while walking on land met a handsome prince...

The story is a familiar one, especially since Disney's cartoon mermaid became a staple of childhood culture. Southern Ballet Theatre, however, will take the story back to its origins this weekend at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center with a storybook ballet that "jump starts the imagination."

Southern Ballet Theatre spokeswoman Amy Orr is enthusiastic about their interpretation of the story, set mostly under the sea.

"Our ballet is closer to the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale written in 1836 than to the Disney production, although of course they are similar," she explains. "Except our version, unlike the Anderson story, will have a happy ending."

The family-friendly event will take place at 7:30 p.m. today, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

There are 70 dancers in the cast, and the imaginative special effects, colorful scenery and beautiful costumes are sure to mesmerize.

Dancing the role of "The Little Mermaid" will be graduating senior Laura Urrutia, who has been awarded a scholarship to Butler University, where she will continue dancing. The role of the Sea Witch is filled by Sarah D'Urso, who is juggling dance offers and opportunities for her future. The role of the Prince is performed by Brandon Chitwood.

A number of Southern Ballet Theatre alumni are returning for cameo roles, such as a pas de trios, or "dance for three," with the prince during a scene which will show off their post-graduate skills. Dana Tumlin is coming from Chattanooga, and Christin Waller, who danced at Brigham Young University, and Rachael Campbell will be welcomed back to the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center stage.

The sets and costumes are also of star quality, as the ballet incorporates unusual pieces and highly imaginative lighting and effects. Life-sized clam shells, coral formations and giant lobster claws have been carefully created. The feeling of being actually underwater will be enhanced by special effects such as intricate lighting, strobes and fog machines. "It's very theatrical," Orr says.

Audience members may be curious as to how Urrutia will dance wearing a fin - and how she will go from having a tail to having legs.

It's all in the magic of costuming. Southern Ballet Theatre has received the help of costume designer Cindy Tucker of Southeastern Alabama Dance Company.

"The costumes have a unitard base, but the rest is magic," Orr says.

The music is an eclectic mixture of melodies that range from classical to techno, new age, Celtic and back to classical.

Tickets for "The Little Mermaid" are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students in advance. Adult tickets are $15 at the door. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster by calling 404-249-6400 or by visiting the Gwinnett Center Box Office at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. For more information about Southern Ballet Theatre, its school and productions, visit www.southernballettheatre.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail hcalmes@mindspring.com.