A timeless tale (An article about Vladimir Franz ballet "Goldilocks; The Prague Post)

20.10.2013 18:55

"Goldilocks" ballet appeals to audiences young and old

As schools shut down for the holidays and snow continues to fall, what are cabin-feverish families with children to do? Fortunately for audiences young and old, the National Theater is offering a performance of Goldilocks, one of their most popular ballets. 

First premiering in 2006 with a score from Czech composer Vladimír Franz, choreography from Jan Kodet and direction from Ondřej Havelka, Goldilocks was an immediate hit. Demand for the ballet - based on a fairy tale by popular Czech writer Karel Jaromír Erben (1811-70) - has grown steadily since. Goldilocks' fairy-tale setting, fantastical characters and abundance of furry costumes leave no doubt that the ballet is targeted to children, but there is also plenty for adults to appreciate, including Vladimír Franz's celebrated score. 

According to Franz, creating music for a ballet based on a well-known story was particularly challenging. Not only did the music have to coincide with the script and the personalities of the characters, but the score had to appeal to a childlike way of seeing the world, he said. 

"At one time, I swore that I would never do fairy tales. I was distant from the starting point of the clear naming of phenomena the way children are able to do it," he said. "I understand the ballet as a musical and dramatic form expressing itself through movement. The content dictates the means." 

Many of the characters in Goldilocks are completely fantastical, in appearance and behavior. There are several humans in the story, but there are also animal and inanimate characters, which make the ballet appealing for children but were difficult to capture in music, Franz said. 

"The ballet's fabric is penetrated by characteristic motifs - the motif of George, Goldilocks, the dog, the ravens, the evil king, the snake, the living water, death, and at nodal points, a narrator appears in the form of an antique chorus to direct and evaluate the action," he said. 

The story of Goldilocks has gone through several cultural permutations over the years. Native English speakers are probably familiar with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a folk tale first set down by British poet Robert Southey in 1837. Goldilocks the ballet is based Karel Erben's famous story "Zlatovláska," written during the same period. 

Erben was a popular 19th-century writer and historian who worked as the archives secretary at the National Museum in Prague. He is best known for his collection of poems titled Kytice, or "bouquet," as well as Prostonárodní české písně a říkadla, a collection of Czech folk poetry and folklore that is now considered an invaluable contribution to Slavic folk history. 

Erben's take on the Goldilocks tale revolves around a king and his servant George. The story begins as an old woman visits the king, offering him a snake that - if he eats it - will allow him to understand the speech of animals. The king orders George to cook the snake without tasting it. George disobeys the king, and thereafter both the king and his servant can understand animals. Angered by this betrayal, the king sends George on an impossible quest to fulfill three duties, but promises the young man his most beautiful daughter, Goldilocks, if he is successful.

George is brave and strong, but both the difficulty of the tasks as well as the king's treachery stand in his way. Fortunately, George has help from animals as well as the elixir of life-giving water, which can re-animate the dead. 

The tale of Goldilocks is timeless and archetypal, but Franz said he tried to focus on the story's Czech aspects to create a score that would speak directly to Czechs. 

"Although fairy tales are the fruit of cognition resulting from a long-term experience of people irrespective of their nationality, I would like Goldilocks to be a Czech ballet," he said. 

Regardless of Franz's intention, Goldilocks appeals to all audiences: Czech and foreign, young and old.
Stephan Delbos, Prague Post, 22.12.2010