The Goblin King features an unexpected prop for a dance show: Whoopee cushions, stuffed into the pockets of long, green carpet over which ensemble dancers roll and tumble to "Stayin' Alive."
It's Trip the Dark's approximation of the Bog of Eternal Stench from the movie Labyrinth. Much like the alt-children's movie to which it pays tribute—the surreal story that stars David Bowie and features some of Jim Henson's freakiest puppets—The Goblin King is a unique experience. With a sense of humor and camp common in almost every Portland art scene except dance, it's deeply, and often hilariously, cheesy. Multiple dancers take turns playing the Goblin King and strutting around the stage wearing wigs that replicate Bowie's glam mullet. There are some purely contemporary sequences, but the more idiosyncratic choreography is thoroughly jazzy: The dancers wear big, showy smiles and windshield-wipe their hands over their heads while in triangle formation. There's even some tap dancing, which is perhaps as underappreciated as whoopee cushions.
The three acts tell the same story—Sarah's journey through the Goblin King's labyrinth to retrieve her abducted infant brother—through the lens of three different characters: Sarah, the Goblin King and Hoggle, the labyrinth-dwelling troll.
Maybe it's because it's set to all Bowie songs, but the Goblin King's act is the most joyous. Sarah and Hoggle's acts feel like they're trying to get across lessons about perseverance and the importance of friendship that's hard to reconcile, with the lo-fi, occasionally choppy production. But Act II seems committed to being goofy: It opens with the goblins abducting a plastic baby doll while Kaician Jade Kitko dances the part of the pouty king to "Under Pressure."
Much of the joy comes from catching all the references, so it's hard to imagine how much one would get out of it if they weren't a Labyrinth fan. But if you have a reasonably high tolerance for camp, The Goblin King is odd in a deeply satisfying way. Besides, a blurred line between sincerity and absurdity is pretty faithful to the source material.
SEE IT: The Goblin King is at The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., #9, tripthedark.com. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, through June 17. Additional show 2 pm Saturday, June 10. $15-$18.