The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is a fascinating company- although they stage and produce the classics that we all know and love, they also bring newer productions to our stage to broaden our ballet views. This is only the second production of The Princess and the Goblin and is unlike anything else the company has staged in the last few years. The shadows and magic and goblins are the perfect answer for the fall, and we were able to see the full range of the company and Royal Winnipeg Ballet school! One of my new favourite ballets, here is The Princess and the Goblin!
Of course when there is a pre-show chat, you have to grab a seat! Tara Birtwhistle was the featured chatter for our performance- a former princpal dancer of the RWB and current Ballet Master to the company, Tara has a long history with the RWB. She worked with Twyla Tharp (the creator and choreographer) and her assistant to originally stage The Princess and the Goblin, and also on this current production. She gave us a bit of background on what it was like to work with Twyla, as well as working with such a large children’s cast. I very much appreciate these pre-show chats because they always offer meaningful insight into the company and production that enhance the show- it’s never just an unrelated person chatting away.
They were also offering tickets to a backstage tour after the show ended, so of course we had to get tickets to that, as well! The RWB works tirelessly to connect us as the audience with the performance as a whole, and I think that having meet and greets with dancers, chats, and tours are the perfect way to build connections. (And also just enthral a ballet nerd such as myself…)
Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin is based on a fairy tale written by Scottish author George MacDonald (published in 1872). This production was commissioned jointly by the Atlanta Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and was originally staged in 2012. Unfortunately that was when I was living in Ireland and wasn’t able to catch it the first time around, so I knew that I had to see it this time!
This is the official synopsis from the RWB site: “The story of the ballet begins with King Papa’s garden party. While he is busy indulging in his guests’ attention, the children of the kingdom are kidnapped by the Goblin, who live in the mines below. Princess Irene tries to warn her father, but he is too preoccupied to hear her and does not act in time to save the children. Princess Irene attempts to rescue the children but fails, and her friend Curdie is captured and caged in the Goblin Kingdom. In her second attempt, the Princess is aided by her magical Great-Great Grandmother, who gives her a powerful weapon against the Goblin: a pair of pointe shoes. Princess Irene uses the shoes to defeat the Goblin, whose vulnerability is their tender feet. She frees Curdie, rescues the children, and all return home to King Papa.”
Overall, I adored this ballet! It walks a line between classical and contemporary choreography- I very much prefer classical ballet but it was so playful and suited all of the characters so perfectly that I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Tara Birtwhistle had discussed in her chat that each of the Goblins had a different ailment- a limp, a swollen hand, a hunched shoulder (up to the dancer to create)- and it was thoroughly entertaining to try and guess what each was.
Jo-Ann Sundermeier was calm but commanding as the Goblin Queen, and Stephan Azulay and Stephan Possin were perfect as her bumbling henchmen. Saeka Shirai was enchanting as Irene- her dancing is delicate but still has force and strength behind it, and her footwork (important to this production) was impeccable. The female company members were the icing on the cake, though- the female goblins start out in bare feet (as you would expect from goblins), but they acquire their very own dazzling pointe shoes and have to figure out how exactly to use these foreign shoes. They did an absolutely fantastic job of acting like they have no idea how a pointe shoe work, no small feat when it’s how you spend the majority of your day.
The backstage tour after was fascinating- the stage manager gave us some insights as to how all of the scenery, sounds, and lights happen to present the magic that we see. She also talked about the touring experience which I was particularly interested in given that I never get to see the company on tour! I used to dance on this stage when I was younger, so it was rather a deja vu moment to be looking out into the theatre again. It was also very cool to see backstage again; every company and production has a different backstage setup and I’m always curious to see what’s going on!
The Princess and the Goblin is the perfect show for new and returning audience members, young and old alike! The Royal Winnipeg Ballet brings such life and force to their performances, and really give you an escape for the evening. I am hoping that they continue to stage this, and I’m excited to see the rest of the season. I have season tickets already, but there are tickets available for the rest of the productions!
For anyone who is interested, today is World Ballet Day 2017! The Australian Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, and the San Francisco will all be broadcasting throughout the day (in addition to countless other companies). You will have the chance to see classes, rehearsals, and performances all streamed across the globe to bring us together to celebrate ballet. Over 22 hours of live ballet is going to make for a very exciting Thursday!
What is your favourite fairy tale?