October 29, 2013

The Little Mermaid Statue, the Dancing Mermaid, and the Mori Girl, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

Editor's note: Nora Stasio, fairy tale news reporter, travels from Denmark to San Francisco to Japan in her exploration of mermaid and fairy tale influences in this column. I'm intrigued by the Mori and Hama girls from Japan, but haven't used any pictures for fear of stealing artist's images. But Nora is right, the images are really lovely. So go to the Google machine.

Denmark native Hans Christian Andersen has inspired artists of all kinds throughout his career as a master storyteller. His most famous tale is undoubtedly The Little Mermaid, whose heroine inspired one of Denmark’s most treasured and famous landmarks. August 23rd of 2013 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Little Mermaid statue, which resides off the shores of Copenhagen, Denmark. 
 "The Little Mermaid," in Copenhagen, Denmark

In the early 1900s, Carl Jacobsen was a wealthy philanthropist with a great love of the arts. He took particular interest in a ballet version of The Little Mermaid produced by Copenhagen's Royal Theatre, which starred prima ballerina Ellen Price. Jacobsen commissioned Edvard Eriksen to create a statue of the mermaid in Price’s likeness. Upon hearing that she’d have to pose nude, Ellen declined the offer to model. Eriksen instead sculpted the body of his wife, Eline. She posed as the lovesick young mermaid, sitting atop a rock and looking longingly out at the sea. Eriksen then sculpted Price’s head atop his wife’s body, and the mermaid was completed. 

The statue was unveiled to the public on August 23, 1913, 100 years ago. She has survived multiple acts of vandalism and was once even transported to Shanghai, China, for Expo 2010, a grandiose world fair event. She has had to be repaired and retouched several times, but she stands (sits, actually) today at her original spot on the rocky shore, and hopefully will continue to dwell there for another 100 years.

If the idea of a mermaid ballet intrigues you, you’ll want to check out the San Francisco Ballet’s production of The Little Mermaid from 2010. John Neumeier’s adaptation of Andersen’s tale was covered as part of PBS’s Great Performances program, and the entire production is available to view through the PBS website!

Neumeier’s ballet is entirely different from the one that captivated Carl Jacobsen a century ago, but it’s similarly received a great deal of acclaim. The two-act production has a score by Lera Auerbach, a Russian-born American woman (it’s always nice to hear about female composers). John Neumeier, a Milwaukee native, designed the sets, costumes, and lighting, and choreographed the entire show all by himself. His version of the show is said to play up the intense emotional struggles of the characters in a dazzling new way.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s performance as the Mermaid has been praised by many critics for its delicate grace. In this version of the story, the evil sea witch is played by a male dancer. There’s even a dancer portraying Andersen himself, making an appearance at the beginning of the show. In the playbill, this character is referred to as ‘The Poet,’ and his actions set the plot in motion. See it for yourself at www.pbs.org.

People all over the world get inspiration from fairy tales, probably because they seem to somehow touch us all deep inside, and speak to us in a universal language. Here’s an interesting question for you: How does being a lover of fairy tales affect your everyday life? 

Does your love of fantasy have any impact on your personal wardrobe? If you said yes, then you’re not alone. In fact, there are quite a few Japanese fashion “subcultures” that might interest you. The “Mori Girl” trend is probably my favorite, and sadly, it isn’t very well known here in the states.

“Mori Girl” is a fashion movement that started in Japan, much like how “Punk” has its roots in the UK. (Editor's note: Elderly rock fans like myself see punk as more of a transatlantic movement--and let's not forget the Aussies.) “Mori” is Japanese for “forest." The clothes of the Mori Girl reflect the natural and serene beauty of the woods, emphasizing loose and flowy garments in earthy tones. She is a nymph-like creature, living among the trees, always looking youthful, pure, and very modest, wearing brown knits, cream-colored cottons, and floral headbands. Antique lace, seed pearls, key-shaped jewelry, and vintage pieces are often incorporated into this look. Picture Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, preening the rose bushes, wearing brown tights and a lacy-collared dress.

This is a movement rooted deeply in old-world European aesthetics, like the designs found in classic fairy-tale storybooks. Mori Girls have been known to look through such books for their fashion inspirations. 

The newest trend in Japan these days is an extension of the “Mori Girl” movement, known as “Hama Girl." The Hama Girl draws her inspiration from the ocean, with all of its lore and mystique. “Hama” means “sea," after all. Hama Girls often don pale summer dresses and crocheted vests, and pose on the beach with seashells in hand. Such images always make me think of Andersen’s young mermaid, exploring the beach, having just been transformed into a human. 

Anyone interested in these subcultures should search through Tumblr using Hama or Mori Girl as tags. You might find an interesting new way to add a bit of fairy tale flavor to your everyday life. Happy Discoveries!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I just graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)." 


Laura B. said...

Fascinating analysis

Lissa Sloan said...

The ballet sounds interesting--thanks for the info!