Rumplestiltskin unpacks the myth to depict an estranged father meeting his unwelcome firstborn son.

Susan and Alex in Rumplestiltskin

The Rumplestiltskin myth written by the Brothers Grimm is a patriarchal vision: the Miller's Daughter is dominated by the men in her life. First, her father gets her in trouble by bragging about her impossible skills, then the king threatens her life, and then Rumplestiltskin comes along to do her work for her, but at a terrible price.

An earlier version of the myth, Rumpenstunzchen, depicts her as a woman desperate to learn a trade, spinning flax into yarn, but incompetent at it: she keeps spinning gold. Rumpenstunzchen, equally desperate to be a father, offers to train her in exchange for her firstborn. She agrees, and then succeeds so well that she attracts the affection of a prince.

Our dance, "Rumplestiltskin," focuses on the troubled relationship between the title character, played by Alexander Short, and the Miller's Daughter, played by Susan Donham. The two have much in common: they are each desperate to change their fortunes, aligned on a precipice of great change in their lives. This brings them together into an uneasy, awkward at times, affair. Donham's probing hands reach around Short's back, inching along his spine, until he pushes her forward. Finally, she flies upward, past his shoulder, but he grasps her still, by the elbow. In this case, spinning straw into gold is a metaphor for making a baby, spinning egg into arms, hands, head....

Susan and Mac in Rumplestiltskin

While the Miller's Daughter succeeds, becoming the master weaver she set out to become, Rumplestiltskin changes his mind. He discovers how much work raising a child is, and decides to offer her a way out: the naming contest. When the Miller's Daughter guesses a long series of names without finding his, he starts singing his name aloud at his camp, in case she might be listening. When the Miller's Daughter finally names Rumplestiltskin, he must own his true self, and leaves the child behind: he has not wanted the boy after all, just the Miller's Daughter. Firstborn, played by Malcolm Shute, pulls Rumplestiltskin's arms around him in an embrace, but Rumplestiltskin pulls away; Firstborn leaps onto Rumplestiltskin's shoulder, but gets knocked off; Firstborn draws Rumplestiltskin's arms around his neck, but gets pushed away.