By Manning Harris
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.