Dancer Wei Wang of SF Ballet talks ‘The Little Mermaid,’ performing as Sea Witch

SF Ballet/Courtesy

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The life of a dancer is never slow (unless, of course, the music calls for it). Wei Wang has known this since studying at the Beijing Dance Academy as a teenager. Today, at 26 years old with 16 years of ballet under his belt, Wang is ready for his role as the Sea Witch in San Francisco Ballet’s newest fast-paced performance of “The Little Mermaid.”

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Wang shared how he’s been able to give the Sea Witch his own personal twists after doing some research on the original version of the fairytale. “As I read the original tale a little bit, it says the Sea Witch willingly gave the Little Mermaid what she wanted with a trading condition,” Wang said. “I realized he’s a very overpowering and insecure character.”

This isn’t the first time Wang has experienced a San Francisco Ballet production of “The Little Mermaid.” In his first year as a dancer in San Francisco, he was able to watch dancers filming the production from the audience. “It’s very abstract — it’s not what I thought,” Wang said. “I was just seeing people moving and getting the feeling it’s a dark, dark fairytale and it’s a dark story. I could tell the story wasn’t written for the kids originally and I didn’t quite understand until this time.”

The ballet is not recommended for children under age 12, and this can be confusing for people who associate the story with the Disney version. “You feel more than you watch something, especially in this production,” Wang said. “It’s a dark fairytale. Of course there’s (violent parts). But the dancing itself, there’s nothing violent or unhealthy about it. It’s just everything put together the way that (choreographer) John (Neumeier) tells the story … it’s that feeling that could put you slightly on the edge of your seat.”

Even though the material is on the edgier side, Wang voiced his ability to channel it. “It’s not too challenging in the sense that I can actually enjoy the movements,” Wang said. “It’s not (so) hard that I’m constantly drowning in the choreography, so I can bring the best of myself into it. I thought (the Sea Witch) was a very, very evil character because the movements are quite hardcore… and at the same time you also have to do the sea wavy quality so that you get a sense you’re in the ocean.”

Wang’s costume for this character is mostly just flowy material, so it doesn’t get in the way much. The paint that covers his body, however, is a different story. “The one thing (that is) challenging about that makeup is you have to sit in that chair forever to transform into that character,” Wang said. “(I) have very little time to warm my body up before the show.”

Although Wang has been able to overcome the challenges of playing his character, this production hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Since the rehearsals began last fall, dancers were challenged with rehearsing in harsh air conditions due to the fires spreading across California. “It was all smogy,” Wang said. “It was quite challenging for dancers — everyone was wearing masks and people had problems breathing. But we put it together then and now we are really pushing it together.”

Now approaching its closing weekend, the production is surely making waves with its tightly-knit onstage community.

Erik Tomasson/Courtesy

“I think for this ballet, it’s slightly on the contemporary-modern side, so the movement is more (towards) the floor and to each other,” Wang said. “When we work with each other, we really feel each other. When we touch, we really touch. When we grab, we really grab. I just get this trust — I can trust them and I can feel that they trust me when I’m doing everything … there’s no fear there, there’s no hesitation. It’s really comfortable.”

In the past year, Wang was promoted to principal dancer in the San Francisco company, allowing him to pursue more focused characters. “I can put my own interpretations into pieces and I can put more thought into dancing… which is actually what I wanted to do,” Wang said.

“My mind is mostly just focused on what I do. Since I’m young, I just want to put the most into (dancing) so I won’t regret it later,” he said.

For the rest of this year, Wang is preparing to head to London with the company to perform before the new season of shows begins this summer. If you’re looking for a good time under the sea before the spring season ends, now’s your chance to catch Wei Wang as the Sea Witch in this mystical performance.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.