Lowdown
What: The Goblin Market
Where & when: Herald Theatre at the Aotea Centre, Wednesday, April 3 – Saturday, April 13

"We must not look at goblin men / We must not buy their fruits / Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?"

What Christina Rossetti meant when she wrote those lines in the 1862 poem Goblin Market has been much debated. Is it an innocent poem about two young sisters, Laura and Lizzie, cavorting with river goblins? Or, with its talk of forbidden fruit, temptation, sacrifice and salvation, does it have more prescient and sensual themes?

When Eve Gordon, co-founder of cirque theatre company The Dust Palace, first heard Goblin Market, she was just a child and more likely to hear it as an adventure story - with lots of talk about fruit.

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Mangan, highly-acclaimed for her angular and daring physical performances, and Jay Clement, who steps into the role of the goblin.
Mangan, highly-acclaimed for her angular and daring physical performances, and Jay Clement, who steps into the role of the goblin.

But when she re-discovered the poem while looking for literature about female desire, she began to side with those who interpret it as being about feminine sexuality and the power of female friendships.

"We thought about including it in a show called Venus is but Goblin Market is so rich and evocative and visually suggestive that it needed its own show."

So, it became the perfect leaping off point for one of the literary-inspired cirque theatre performances that have won The Dust Palace international acclaim. Working with spoken word poet Jess Holly Bates, Gordon and fellow Dust Palace founder Mike Edward crafted a sensual but physically demanding piece which celebrates female sexuality and the power of sisterhood through trapeze, mask, acrobatics, experimental film, aerial work, music and spoken word.

Rochelle Mangan in The Goblin Market, which has been performed in Canada but, until now, not New Zealand.
Rochelle Mangan in The Goblin Market, which has been performed in Canada but, until now, not New Zealand.

Would Rossetti approve?

"That's a tricky one," says Gordon, "because she did claim it was never about sexuality, which I personally believe was just her public front at a time when women had to deny that side of their nature."

Gordon says The Dust Palace version, The Goblin Market, highlights the contradictions women face – "we're expected to be hypersexualised by then slut-shamed" – but also strength and power.