On Saturday, February 18, I went with a friend/colleague to see Twyla Tharp’s new ballet The Princess and the Goblin. Apparently its full formal title is Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin, which makes my teeth hurt, but I suppose one could argue that if you’re Twyla Tharp, you can call your ballets anything you want. In any case, if my biggest complaint is about the title, you can guess that I don’t have many complaints. The dancing was, of course, beautiful. Maybe a few moves (which I suspect are Tharp trademarks) seemed overused at the time but now I’m glad I saw them over and over so that they are imprinted in my memory. The story, adapted from a 19th-century tale by George MacDonald, was not at all familiar to me, but the salient contours came through clearly enough. I could see overlaps with/references to other Romantic-period story ballets–probably inevitable and certainly interesting. From what I have read, Tharp is trying to add to the canon of story ballets (a form whose obituary has repeatedly been written), not transcend it. Ballet-as-storytelling has its own generic constraints and, as such, likely benefits from hewing to tradition.
The ballet makes extensive use of children, which could have been a kiss of death, but the kids did very well: they were obviously well rehearsed but also handled very naturalistically so they seemed like children rather than Tiny Professional Dancers. The female lead (Irene, the titular princess, danced by Alessa Rogers) was an absolute knockout with feet to die for–a necessary element considering that a major plot point in the ballet involves pointe shoes: Irene learns from her great-grandmother (confusingly, a full-scale dance role played by a lovely soloist, rather than a little-old-lady pantomime/character role) to dance en pointe, an ability that allows her to enthrall, confound, and occasionally injure the goblins. The she-goblins later find their own pointe shoes and stumble around on them in a hilarious ballet in-joke. I think a fair few young (or not so young *cough*) dancers turn ourselves into greedy goblins in pursuit of en-pointe glory.
The action sometimes seemed a little circular or recursive to me, an impression that I credit to my own surprising lack of experience with ballet in performance. I’ve actually seen only a handful of ballets and am thus unaccustomed to the necessary repetitions that come with telling a story wordlessly. As a whole, the ballet is well-paced with the energy–physical and musical–building toward a climax. I was worried when I found out it was 80 minutes, no intermission, but then I was surprised when it was over. For me, losing track of time is the reliable sign of a successful entertainment experience, so
Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin goes in the win column as far as I’m concerned.