A DAY AT THE BALLET: Reporter spends special day with his own ‘little mermaid’

When the Colorado Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid” came to the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall last week, I figured “Why not?” I dressed Cici in a fancy green dress, ill-fitting white shoes with tiny heels and headed to the concert hall, which is at University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts. To say I didn’t know what to expect is an understatement.

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Cici Johansson swirls in her dress during intermission of The Little Mermaid ballet April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

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Cici Johansson fixes her high heels as she makes her way to go watch The Little Mermaid ballet April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

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Cici Johansson happily sings "Pour Unfortunate Souls" as she rides to go watch The Little Mermaid ballet April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

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Cici Johansson pulls hurriedly makes her way to go watch The Little Mermaid ballet April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

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Cici Johansson tells her dad Brandon to be quiet while waiting for The Little Mermaid ballet to start April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

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Cici Johansson enjoys a yummy chocolate chip cookie during intermission of The Little Mermaid ballet April 1 at Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The Colorado Ballet closed out its 2016-2017 season with the children’s classic. (Marla Keown/For the Aurora Sentinel)

I don’t know the first thing about the ballet.

No idea what an allegro is, utterly clueless about what soutenu means and I don’t know ballon from balloon.

I do have a 3-year-old daughter, though. That means the occasional toddler ballet class, which is really more of an excuse to don the tutu and slippers, stare at herself in the big mirror and boogie to kids music for an hour.

So when the Colorado Ballet’s “The Little Mermaid” came to the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall last week, I figured “Why not?” I dressed Cici in a fancy green dress, ill-fitting white shoes with tiny heels and headed to the concert hall, which is at University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts.

To say I didn’t know what to expect is an understatement. I knew the weekend shows had sold out fast but wasn’t totally sure an energetic toddler would sit quietly through a lengthy show.

And as I feared, once inside, the biggest challenge throughout — and often funniest — was to keep her from talking. This was her first ballet, too, so she had questions about everything. Where is Ariel? Why is that girl the prettiest dancer? Again, where is Ariel?

We may have caught a stink eye or two from an audience member in the row in front of us, but that was it. In a crowd packed with toddlers, most people seemed to understand that the traditional silence would be broken by loudly whispered questions during the show’s quietest moments.

While I thought the first performance — the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 — was cool, I don’t know that I can say the same for my daughter. She was confused about which one was Ariel. And where was King Triton? My efforts to explain to her that the Little Mermaid was the next show didn’t seem to register.

But she perked up when she saw a fellow ginger on the stage.

“Dad, one of the boys dancing with the girls is a redhead,” she said excitedly.

I didn’t notice any redheads up there, but anything that kept her somewhat engaged was fine by me.

By the end though, the lack of singing or talking couldn’t quite hold the 3-year-old’s attention. Despite the grace and precision of the dancers, a tot used to Disney cartoons needs an easier-to-digest narrative than a traditional, interpretive ballet offers.

“This is so long,” she said, slumping on my lap near the end of the first show.

At the intermission, I asked her thoughts and she had a surprisingly-harsh take on the costumes.

“The lady had weird eye lashes,” she told me as we waited in line for a cookie and juice at the snack bar. I thought the eyelashes were fine, but what do I know?

Once we settled back into our seats and “The Little Mermaid” started, it was clear from the first few seconds that this show was going to be a little more Cici’s speed. The show is narrated, includes some video elements, plenty of talking and singing, and pretty wacky costumes. There’s a reason parents with toddlers gobbled up all the tickets in just a few days when they went on sale last year.

In some respects the show diverges quite a bit from Disney’s smash 1989 hit movie, especially at the end. But the general storyline is the same: Mermaid daughter of the sea king falls in love with a human and an evil sea witch grants her wish to become human in exchange for the mermaid’s beautiful singing voice. In the end, one of them has to choose between their world and true love.

The audio version of the Disney version is a regular on our car rides, as is the soundtrack, so I worried a little bit about how Cici would handle the different storyline. But by the end, she seemed to like the differences.

She even had high praise for the villain.

“She’s as mean as the other Ursula,” she said, loud enough for the whole section to hear.