The Princess and the GoblinTharp premier
Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:24 PM
I found it enthralling. An affecting love letter to classical tradition that is also funny and just plain fun. I believe this may actually be my favorite Tharp ballet--though I will add that the "scale" might not translate to a larger, technically stronger company. It was perfect for the Atlanta ballet. (Tharp was clearly pushing the dancers, but not overloading them. Indeed I'm not at all sure that her consciousness of the company's strengths and weaknesses did not contribue to the ballet's success--these are wonderful dancers but Tharp could not just "WOW" the audience with daring-do physical prowess.) I gather the Royal Winnipeg Ballet will dance it in the Fall and Tharp may tweak it at that time. I highly recommend it and if the Atlanta Ballet revives the ballet in future would happily see it again. What follows below came out rather long--I think the ballet deserves the attention it has gotten and more.
Brian Seibert wrote a mixed but overall good(ish) review in the Times, but I found myself in much stronger agreement with Susan Reiter's more positive review in Dance Magazine--she invoked Bournonville (A Folk Tale) as precedent and that seems to me quite right. At any rate, both ballets feature trolls!
(Because of misplaced program, what I have written is from memory--hope no details are 'off.')
The ballet is based on a Victorian children's novella that I have never read, but I gather is much loved and admired (I assume by many here at Ballet Talk too): neglected Princess Irene saves the children of kingdom who have been kidnapped by goblins while the adult, widowed King and his court fail to notice that their children have gone missing.. She does so with help of the spirit of her great-great grandmother (the ballet's Lilac Fairy figure) and a young non-aristocratic male friend Curdie...In the ballet version, the self-absorbed though not evil King/father is also king in the goblin world (or, at any rate, consort to its Queen) so the heroine's victory over the Goblins is allegorically a working out of a better relation to her father. Indeed the ballet's final scenes include all the formerly neglectful parents of the kingdom dancing joyfully with their children.
It occurs to me that if I READ the above paragraph I would think the ballet sounded...well, sort of sappy and not my taste at all. In fact, except for Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream I can think of no choreography for children that I actually love--as opposed to tolerate or, at best, like well enough (the latter would be other Balanchine). But what makes Tharp's version of the story magical and almost perfect as a ballet--at least in my eyes--is that the reconciliation of generations is actually refracted through an allegory of ballet tradition. One generation passing on the glories of classical ballet to the next--from the ghosts of the past, that is, the great, great grandmother, to the children, but not leaving out the goblins (or, should one say, character dancers?). I really enjoyed the children here and my companion (even less of a fan of children on stage than I am-- refuses to see Nutcracker ever) -- well, he enjoyed them too.
So, in this version of the story, the beauty of classical ballet conquers all--distant parents, evil goblins, lost children. It brings love, joy, and beauty to the Kingdom. Having the same dancer play the heroine's father AND the lead male of the goblin kingdom occasionally got confusing (my companion was somewhat puzzled), the shift from the one role to the other might have simply been better marked in the costume metamorphosis. The person sitting next to us said that the book makes more sense. At one point it looked as if the hero (Irene's friend Curdie) got so carried away enjoying himself dancing with the goblins that he got distracted from their mission of escape. But then that may have been Tharp's joke not my confusion.
Early in the ballet, specifically Irene dances in soft ballet shoes, but then is taught by her spirit-great-great grandmother to dance on pointe. Once on pointe, Irene in turn wows the goblin world (where the goblin queen initially dances rather like a 'classic' Tharp modern dancer of the 70's--hard to describe: twitchy, at times sexy, shifting, twisting moves). The goblins become besotted by the possibilities of pointe work--at one point forming an ensemble where it appeared that they had one foot bare and one on pointe. I actually thought of Massine rather than Bournonville. The children likewise, though always dancing in a youthful easy manner, eventually take on balletic dimensions. They range from tiny to early teens and the two oldest, towards the very end, under Irene's impact, dance a brief purely classical pas-de-deux with the girl on pointe (the only time in ballet one of the children was on pointe). I guess I AM sappy when it comes to ballet because I found this unspeakably moving.
There is also a lovely pas de trois for Irene, her friend/boyfriend and father towards the end--uh believe it or not this is entirely without creepiness and also sort of melds Tharps' contemporary, swooney Sinatra style with her more purely classical vision--it really does seem to be a dance about reconciliation and joy. The very lovely backdrop behind the pas de trois was a night sky covered with bright, bright stars.
Indeed one of the pleasures of this ballet was too the way it brought together different Tharps (so to speak). At times, the dancing of goblins/children recalled her best early modern work -- only here the shifting, bumping, jokiness had a very precise role in the story telling--at others one felt in the more "musical theater" world of, say, her Sinatra work--but ultimately everything was reconciled in the glories of classical dancing. (I should say I have only limited familiarity with Tharp's work...but this work did seem to me to bring together threads in her career--though the two lead male goblins in particular seemed pretty distinctive too--they belong in this ballet and nowhere else.)
Negatives? Well, honestly for the first few scenes I was decidedly unconvinced that this was for grown ups at all. The introduction of the main characters of the kingdom was very schematic--simple choreography, simple characterization, even to the point of simplistic, and the costumes looked cheap and uninteresting to me (in fact, my recollection is that, for the Atlanta Ballet, this was a very expensive production). I thought my only real pleasure all evening was going to be the wonderful dancing of Alessa Rogers as Irene--lovely clear and fluid phrasing, beautiful lines with nuanced shading of her upper body (exquisite épaulement). However, the childern were surprisingly enjoyable and by no means dominated the action and then the initial goofiness of the goblins started to win me over. Then, too, scene by scene the whole thing built momentum and once Irene was on pointe and the goblins were gobsmacked--well, as is obvious, I thought the ballet turned out to be wonderful.
Other dancers I especially enjoyed included John Welker (the father/goblin king) and Jacob Bush as Curdie, Irene's (boy)friend. Bush studied with Lise Houlton--as I was delighted to read, since she was a favorite of mine at ABT--and seems very accomplished technically with an easy light manner on stage. I also was impressed by Tara Lee, though one might bring even more power to her role as Queen of the Goblins. (She and Welker have a "flashy" pas de deux when they first take on "ballet"-- as if they are the stars at a gala; they were very good, but flashier dancers could have done more with it.)
Anyway, I found The Princess and the Goblin funny, goofy, exuberant, and also beautiful.
(The music was Schubert adapted by Richard Burke.)
Posted 08 March 2012 - 03:17 AM
One question: How did one know that the "Lilac Fairy" character was a "great, great Grandmother"? Just how would one show that in dance, or even pantomime, I am wondering?
Posted 08 March 2012 - 04:05 AM
Posted 08 March 2012 - 05:18 AM
I work extensively with young people, putting on shows in which the stories are told only through dance (not only ballet), and we have encountered difficulty in portraying relationships - and in fact plots - clearly and consisely without programme-notes or text. (we have a very limited budget, so programmes with notes are out ot the question)
Hence my interest in how others have overcome such difficulties!
Knowlege of the stories and similar types of stories helps immensely, I am sure!
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