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Vladimír FRANZ (b. 1959)
Goldilocks - ballet fairy-tale (2006)
Jiřik – Alexander Katsapov
Goldilocks – Adéla Poliertová
Doggie – Viktor Konvalinka
Evil King –  Jiří Vrátil
Flower King – Olexander Kysil
Old woman-Herbalist, Golden Fish – Zuzana Šimáková
Conjurer – Martin Zbrožek
Libretto by Jan Kodet and Ondřej Havelka
Lyrics by Rostislav Krivanek
Choreography by Jan Kodet
Directed for the stage by Ondřej Havelka
Set design by Martin Černy
Light design by Daniel Tesař
Costumes by Alexandra Grusková
Soloists and corps de ballet of the National Theatre Prague
Berg Orchestra/Peter Vrábel
rec. live, Estates Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic, 8 March 2008
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/16:9, 4:3
Sound format: Dolby Digital 2.0
Menu language: English and Czech; Subtitles in English, French and German
Booklet Notes in Czech, English, French and German


Experience Classicsonline

is arguably one of the most acclaimed creations by unconventional Czech composer, Vladimír Franz. It is, as indicated by the title, a ballet fairy-tale with a simple story in which good triumphs over evil. The hero does not get his reward easily; he must work hard to achieve it. It is aimed at a very young audience, possibly children under ten or even younger. To appreciate it one must watch it through the eyes of a child. 

The production design, the fairy-tale itself, the costumes and the music are all consciously created with one aim: to attract children to live theatre by putting together a visually stunning performance. It has an easy to follow moral plot, underlined by expressive music. The music has the kind of rhythm that appeals to a very young audience: marked and graphic, mostly associated with a certain type of action. In this sense, composer Franz, director Havelka and choreographer Kodet succeed in their objectives. If one is to believe what they write in the booklet or is stated in the label’s website then children left the theatre, night after night, feeling enchanted, dominated by a desire to return and see the performance again. 

The plot is a conventional fairy-tale but, in spite of its title Goldilocks, it has no similarities with the famous children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears or even with the original, The Story of the Three Bears, taken from the oral tradition. The latter was first put into written narrative by English poet and author Robert Southey (1774-1843), who included the story in a book, which he published in 1837. 

The Goldilocks of this ballet fairy-tale is not a little girl but a princess and she does not meet any bears or eat anybody’s breakfast, except possibly her own! The libretto was put together by choreographer Kodet and stage director Havelka. It has all the ingredients that make a good fairy tale: a villain in the character of the Evil King; the hero, who is a cook, a simple yet courageous young man and with a noble soul; seven princesses, one of whom is the heroine Goldilocks; animals that help the hero and a magical potion, in this case water that can kill or give life. There is no fairy as such but there is an old woman, a herbalist, who bestows a wonderful gift on the Evil King - though why she does it nobody knows: he will be able to understand animals if he bakes and eats a snake she has brought him in a basket. He asks the cook to prepare it but tells him that he must not taste it or he will be beheaded. The cook tastes it but cannot keep it a secret and so the Evil King finds out. He decides to give the cook a second chance instead of having him killed immediately. The King tells the cook to fetch the beautiful princess Goldilocks so that he can make her his Queen and so spare his life. This starts the cook, our hero, on a long journey, accompanied by his faithful friend, Doggie (obviously a dog) that he can now understand. The cook, called Jiřik goes through many adventures and always helps animals on the way, until he can find the princesses. He falls in love with Goldilocks though at the time he does not yet know that she is the one. The Flower King, Goldilocks’ father, obviously does not just hand over his daughter but tells the cook that he can only take her to become the wife of his master if he can successfully perform three tasks. Jiřik agrees and with the support of the animal friends he helped along the way, he manages to complete all the actions that the Flower King demanded of him. He is however dismayed when he realises that the princess, with whom he fell in love and who loves him in return, is Goldilocks and that he must take her to the Evil King to become his wife. This is where the special magical water comes in and so to the happy ending: the Evil King drinks the water that kills and so dies, thinking he’s drinking the water that gives life and rejuvenates. Jiřik marries Goldilocks. They rule wisely over the Evil King’s country and everyone lives happily ever after.

The DVD booklet contains the full fairy-tale in four languages, Czech, English, German and French, with beautiful coloured photographs from the ballet production. It can easily be read by children, as it is written in a simple, direct style and the action progresses quickly, which makes it also suitable to be read aloud to children too young to read the story themselves.

The choreography by Jan Kodet is dramatically expressive, though not very demanding or original but that is not its aim. There is a successful attempt to mix classic ballet elements with contemporary dance steps, which effectively make the work more attractive to adults. Children will respond well to the movement of the dancers in general, which is often formed by gestures and steps that indicate actions rather than emotions. Children will relate to them because they will feel that they can imitate the dancers and so put themselves in the story, as if they were an intrinsic part of it. The music follows the same idea as the choreography: There are basic themes associated with characters or certain actions; the rhythm is strong and consistent with an underlying tempo that conducts the narrative and supports the progression of the story. I think one might say that the music is graphic, describing the action, which it effectively supports on stage, as performed by the dancers. The best passages reminded me of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring though less sophisticated, with simpler orchestration; while there were others where its atonal characteristics were displeasing to my personal taste. During Jiřik’s journey, there is an attempt to characterise the Czech forests through sound but to my mind the composer was not quite successful. Goldilocks herself appears right from the start and gradually develops to become bright and glorious in the finale; Franz introduces interesting harmonies, suitably highlighting that all is well that ends well. The music can arguably be enjoyed more by an adult audience once one reads the explanations and comments by the composer himself. These are included in the booklet, though I found them a touch pretentious. Children, however, will be little concerned with these matters and will almost certainly be absorbed in the action, following the characters’ adventures.

From the perspective of the dramatic narrative, the tale succeeds because it includes a narrator, the conjurer. He comments on the action, explains certain aspects of it and speeds it up. For a young audience, this is a very effective feature, as it will help them understand the pure balletic parts with no words. Personally, I found the narrator irritating. His part is mostly sung rather than spoken and this is the reason why I did not enjoy it. The part is very well acted but the singing does not match it; the voice is monotone and detracts from the ballet itself. Then there are the subtitles, which are a must if one wants to understand the conjurer’s words, as the whole text is in Czech. The subtitles are more disruptive in a ballet than in a film and I think this could put off young viewers. On the other hand, they may be less fussy than an adult and just concentrate on the visuals; in the end, the words are really not so important.

Where I think that Goldilocks excels is in the costumes, which undoubtedly contributed to a great deal of its success. These, designed by Alexandra Grusková, are truly fabulous and magical. They are colourful, spectacular and, in the case of the animals, realistic, which increases the overall sense of wonder that the piece tries to offer its young audience. A scene in particular stuck in my mind: the ants looking for and gathering the pearls of Goldilocks’ necklace to give to Jiřik, which was one of the tasks her father assigned to him. There is never a moment when one does not believe that they are real ants, genuinely trying to pay back Jiřik for his earlier good deed towards them; and to my mind, this is indeed a “magical” achievement!

The Berg Orchestra, led by its founder Peter Vrábel, delivers a good, solid performance of Franz’s music and effectively participates in the action, particularly in the beginning: They appear as part of the conjurer’s magic on stage and only after that do they take their place, in the orchestra pit, for the performance. Again, this fact will definitely appeal to a young audience.

The idea to film Goldilocks came about because of the enormous success the ballet has enjoyed in Prague, since its creation in 2006, generally playing to sold-out houses. I am however not convinced that the DVD can convey the same sense of wonder and enchantment that one would enjoy by watching the live performance on stage. The filming is sometimes a bit patchy, appearing in a stop-motion style, as if the performers were made of plasticine instead of being real people; however, I could not say if this was intentional or due to poor quality of the disc itself.

The DVD contains also some bonus features with biographies and a documentary, entitled Goldilocks on Tiptoes, which goes behind the scenes and is interesting. Although, the DVD and its contents are mainly aimed at children, I think adults will find some enjoyment as well. It surely is a pleasant piece of entertainment for the whole family and it might just stimulate both young and older viewers’ imagination enough to make them go to the theatre and watch a live ballet performance on stage!

Margarida Mota-Bull 




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