Dance Review: ‘Twyla Tharp’s The Princess & The Goblin’

By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

You don’t have to be a dance aficionado to know that Atlanta Ballet and Twyla Tharp are making history with the world premiere of “Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin,” at the Cobb Energy Centre through February 19; you just have to see it.

It’s a work of transcendent magic that will take you out of this world.

A few days ago Gia Kourlas, in an article for The New York Times, asked “Whatever happened to the great narrative ballet?  The centuries-old tradition of ballets that tell stories…”  She proceeded to answer her own question by writing about this production.

“The Princess and the Goblin” is based on an 1872 children’s fantasy novel by George MacDonald.  It has been reimagined for dance by the legendary Ms. Tharp in a work jointly commissioned for the Royal Winnepeg Ballet (where it will be performed later this year) and Atlanta Ballet.

It’s a charming, childlike story whose triumph is that it can appeal to children and adults.  The moral of the the story, says Ms. Tharp, is that “when grown-ups forget how to lead or forget their morality, look to the innocents.  They will show you how.”  Whew!  Anyone want to question the relevance of this theme to 2012?

Young Princess Irene must undertake a risky mission to rescue children captured by goblins; in so doing, she proves that “the faith and innocence of children can bring redemption to adults,” as the program states.  Now Princess Irene is only eight, but Ms. Tharp wisely takes the artistic liberty of having a grown young woman (Alessa Rogers) dance the title role; a child could not possibly fulfill the demands of the role.  And, not to worry, it works.

But there are 13 real children in the piece:  a first for Ms. Tharp.  However, this is an artist who never rests on her laurels (which are staggering), who constantly pushes herself and her dancers to explore, to pivot, to vanquish boundaries.  The results are magnificent.

Everyone connected to this production is world-class:  Richard Burke, who arranged and orchestrated and wrote original music, to add to the music of Franz Schubert; the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, lush and large and exquisite, conducted by Ari Pelto; lighting by Don Holder; set design by Caleb Levengood; costume design by Anne Armit.

The principal characters and dancers:  Princess Irene, Alessa Rogers; King Papa and King of the Goblins, John Welker; Stella and Blu, Stella McFall and Flannery Bogost; Great-great-Grandmother Irene, Christine Winkler;  Curdie, Jacob Bush; Lootie and Queen of the Goblins, Tara Lee; Helfer and Podge, Christian Clark and Jesse Tyler.

There’s much humor in the piece as well, such as the goblins’ delicate feet—decidedly sensitive to   blows by pointed ballet shoes!  “I think a sense of humor will help get a girl out of a dark place,” Ms. Tharp slyly remarked to Ms. Kourlas in The Times.  For our heroine is no shrinking violet; nor does she require the rescue of some unemployed prince.  Girl power has arrived on the scene.

Something happens in the closing minutes of “The Princess and the Goblin,” and it sneaks up on you:  You fall in love—with life, with the spinning dancers, with love, with the beauty of art.  I think this ballet is a masterpiece.  And I cannot possibly think of a better Valentine’s gift than to take someone, maybe yourself, to see it.  There are three performances this weekend.

A final thank you to Mr. John McFall, Artistic Director of the Ballet, for everything he did to make “The Princess” happen.

For tickets and information visit, atlantaballet.com.

 

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3 Responses to Dance Review: ‘Twyla Tharp’s The Princess & The Goblin’

  1. A Dancer

    February 18, 2012 at 1:14 am

    I disagree. This ballet was a confused, convoluted train wreck. While I deeply admire Ms. Tharp’s earlier works, this ballet misses the mark. She attempts to meld classical ballet and modern dance. However, rather than crafting a new art form that seamlessly blends the two genres, the ballet choppily switches from classical ballet to cutting-edge modern, leaving the viewer disoriented with each change of scene. The presence of children was certainly endearing at times, but their continued presence throughout the ballet detracted from the more technically challenging movements which Ms. Tharp conjures so well. Moreover, the story line is nearly impossible to discern. The program notes state that Irene dances with her great-great-great grandmother–a fact completely lost on the uninformed viewer. As characters flip between upper-world and lower-world personas the viewer is left feeling lost in a maze of changing characters.

  2. Edith Mitchell

    February 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Perhaps Tharp didn’t realize that her task was to “craft a new art form,” as you say. If she had, her work would doubtless have been more “convoluted” than it was. This is the woman who brought modern dance to ballet, not vice versa. Rather distressing that you, a dancer who “deeply admires” her earlier works, can call this charming work “a convoluted train wreck.” Ouch.

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