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Culture Concierge:

February 6, 2012

Twyla Tharp and Atlanta Ballet Make The New York Times

The Atlanta World Premiere of The Princess and the Goblin, Feb. 10-19, Generates Major Culture Buzz

By Nancy Staab

From romantic literature and faith—to the legacy of Czech dissident, playwright and president Vaclav Havel—legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp spills the deep-rooted sources of her original ballet to the NYT

Atlanta Ballet rehearsal photo with Twyla by Kim Kenney Atlanta Ballet rehearsal photo with Twyla by Kim Kenney

When The Princess and the Goblin debuts at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Feb. 10-19, it will represent a series of monumental firsts. It will be the very first performance of this original ballet choreographed by dance legend Twyla Tharp for its debut on the world’s stage. It will be the first time that Tharp has incorporated children into a full-length performance (13 children from the Atlanta Ballet’s new Centre for Dance Education facility will participate, including daughters of ballet patrons Merry Carlos and Ginny Brewer). And it is the first time that company member Alessa Rogers, will dance as a lead. She was intended to be the understudy but Tharp tapped her for the lead last minute. Known for her strenuous creativity, mercurial ways and tendency to keep dancers on their toes (literally and figuratively), Tharp has offered a crash course in dance to Atlanta’s core troupe and child dancers during her summer tenure here and winter rehearsal sessions.

However it is not the first time that she had debuted a major work in Atlanta. About a year ago she debuted the Sinatra-inspired, modern dance performance Come Fly with Me at The Alliance Theatre, which then traveled to Broadway and Las Vegas. A dancer who moves fluidly between modern dance, Broadway, and classical ballet (she’s choreographed for Mikhail Barishynikov), Tharp brought all these forms of dance to bear on her current work The Princess and the Goblin. The work is the result of a shared commission between Atlanta Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, where the show will be performed in the fall. Though Tharp is known for her modern work, she has also tapped into pop culture with Sinatra and Billy Joel-inspired pieces, and now, she’s swept up by the romanticism of a 19th-century fairytale with music by Franz Schubert, performed live by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra.

Twyla lifted by two dancers Twyla lifted by two dancers

The sneaker-clad, seventy-year-old with an Emmy and Tony under her belt, spilled some secrets of this new ballet in a recent interview by Gia Kourlas in The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2012. The NYT article opens with the question “What every happened to the great narrative ballet?” and then posits Tharp and The Princess and the Goblin as the likely inheritors of that mantle after many false attempts by others. Asked about her out-of-fashion choice of narrative, Tharp replies, “…much of the grandeur of the Romantic imagination was dismantled by the 20th century. I think that it warrants re-visitation.”  

She also revealed in the interview that she sees childhood innocence and faith as the heart of this ballet’s message, “The notion of faith is something that’s been very challenged in the 20th century, and I think faith has its values.” And lest the rebel Tharp sound like she’s gone too soft and traditionalist, she continues, as quoted in the NYT:

“The ballet also has its share of humor, which is not hard to justify in a story where the goblins are cursed with extremely tender feet — perfect ammunition for a jabbing point shoe — and detest rhyming. Why has it taken so long for someone to turn this into a dance? I think a sense of humor will help get a girl out of a dark place,” Ms. Tharp said. She paused before flashing a brilliant, mischievous smile. “I’m just guessing here.”  ]

Lastly, Tharp confesses that the recent death of Czech dissident Vaclav Havel also left it’s mark on her interpretation of The Princess, according to The New York Times article:


“Havel, a writer and dissident who was the former Czech president, was a true hero, she said. She knew him through the filmmaker Milos Forman. (Ms. Tharp has worked as a choreographer on three of his films: “Hair,” “Ragtime” and “Amadeus.”) “He and Milos were best friends. He was an amazing man. You think about his struggle for release, his struggle for freedom for his country. It’s not dissimilar to what is being said here. I said, ‘O.K. kids, you guys have got to be really brave little troopers, and you have to represent this spirit that is undefeatable.’ I gave them something more to play off against. The kids are not going to get pushed around.”


Tickets to The Princess and the Goblin, Feb. 10-19, at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre start at $20 and are available at or or 800.982.2787.