Kafka Novella Metamorphoses into Ballet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Frank Moon, The Metamorphosis(choreography by Arthur Pita), Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 20.3.2013 (JOD)

Gregor Samsa: Edward Watson
Grete Samsa: Laura Day/Corey Annand
Mrs Samsa: Nina Goldman
Mr Samsa: Neil Reynolds
Maid/Coffee Lady/Dream Figure/Bearded Man: Bettina Carpi
Train conductor/Dream Figure/Bearded Man: Amir Giles
Clerk/Dream Figure/Bearded Man: Greig Cooke
TV Fitness Instructor/Understudy: Scarlett Perdereau

Music composed and performed by Frank Moon (voice, violin, guitar, oud, tam-tam) with recorded piano, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, vocals, violin.
Clarinet (recorded): Dave Schulman
Additional violins and vocals on ‘Do Noci’ (recorded): Bev Lee Harling
Designs: Simon Draw
Lighting design: Guy Hoare

Royal Ballet Principal Edward Watson won the 2012 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for his role as Gregor Samsa, the travelling salesman of Kafka’s novella who wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into a beetle. In a way it is impossible not to wonder at, Watson and choreographer Arthur Pita give the impression that instead of four extremely pliant, ballet-trained limbs, we are looking at six, creeping legs. Like Balanchine’s Apollo, Gregor has to discover the world around him through his body. The difference is that he has to do it as a scuttling insect rather than a god. One of the most disconcerting moments comes when he (and the audience) realize that, for him, a floor and a wall are the same: surfaces over which he can crawl.

Gregor’s family, from whom he seems alienated even before his metamorphosis occurs, also has to deal with what has happened to him. Watson’s tour de force is complemented by the contrastingly careful, mostly silent performances of Nina Goldman as his ill, permanently anxious-looking mother, Neil Reynolds as his potentially boorish father, and Corey Annand as his sister, Grete, who develops from schoolgirl to young woman over the course of the piece. Unfortunately, their reaction is interrupted by a dream Gregor has in his new incarnation which, while powerful in its way, only serves to lessen the sense of isolation around him. Inhabited by black figures who do not move like human beings, but who do not move like insects either, it is first of all confusing, and also seems to put the reason for Gregor’s isolation down to one thing: his sexuality. A production that calls itself an “adaptation after” Kafka is giving itself leave to do what it likes, but there is a sense of relief, and renewed interest, when the focus shifts again to Gregor’s family and their efforts to earn an income now that he no longer can.

The atmosphere of unease that is created even before the audience has taken its seats is sustained throughout by means of sound and lighting and movement. Part of the interest of this “dance-theatre” piece lies in its examination of different kinds of choreographic language. If what happens to Gregor is surreal, the wordless, repeated gestures of family life before it happens are no more comfortingly ‘normal’. Grete excitedly performs ballet steps for Gregor when he returns from work each evening. Against the background of the family’s stark, white kitchen these look strange rather than graceful or charming. (In its defiance of gravity, her arabesque is also an ironic comment on the hunched, twisted creature that Gregor is about to turn into.) Finally, there is the folk dance that Gregor’s mother, father and sister dance with the three Jewish lodgers they have taken in as a way of making money. This moment of warmth and happiness (even Mrs Samsa smiles) serves as the climax of the work.

John O’Dwyer