Flashback, or Flash Forward? Arthur Pita’s The Mother with Natalia Osipova

22/06/2019

The Mother (choreography by Arthur Pita): Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 20.6.2019. (JO’D)

Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard (c) Kenny Mathieson

Production:

Director/Choreographer – Arthur Pita
Composer/Musicians – Frank Moon and Dave Price
Designer – Yann Seabra
Lighting designer – David Plater
Dramaturge – Anna Rulevskaya

Cast:

The Mother – Natalia Osipova

Death/Doctor/Babushka/Rose Gardener/Ferryman/White-haired Witch/Lover – Jonathan Goddard

A mother wakes up to find that her sick baby has been stolen. She sets off to find it. If this journey to recover someone lost brings to mind Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, it is because director and choreographer Arthur Pita’s new dance-theatre work, The Mother, is adapted from another, ‘darker’ Andersen tale, The Story of a Mother.

The mother, here, is Natalia Osipova. The other roles are danced by Jonathan Goddard. As is often the case with Arthur Pita, the piece contains a third active ingredient: its set. The Andersen story, reproduced in the programme, takes the mother to lakes and woods. Pita and designer Yann Seabra confine the action to the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom of a dingy, Eastern European or Russian flat circa 1970. The use of doors on a revolving stage conveys the necessary sense of a journey. Each time a room comes round it has been subtly altered or completely transformed.

As the audience takes its seats, Natalia Osipova is already in the bedroom. Pacing about in her nightdress, she comforts the crying baby. She tries to sleep, but tosses and turns on the bed as the cries disturb her. The white-coated medic who responds to her call to the emergency services enters not through the door, but through a full-length mirror on the opposite wall. He is Death come to claim the child.

Natalia Osipova and Arthur Pita have collaborated since 2014, at least. The Mother may be the most successful synthesis so far of the dancer’s classical training and a contemporary dance vocabulary. Rather than building up to a climactic, ‘Natalia Osipova solo’ (as the non-classical work in which she performs has tended to do), the ninety-minute-long piece allows for dance, and drama, all the way through. It also allows for appreciation of the dancer’s technique: everything comes from her expressive back.

Jonathan Goddard, winner of the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Male Dancer (modern) in 2014, partnered Osipova in her Pure Dance ‘vehicle’ last year at Sadler’s Wells. She seemed to be learning from him then; in The Mother they perform as equals. Costume requirements for the roles of Doctor, Babushka, Rose Gardener, Ferryman and White-haired Witch can leave Goddard’s slight frame rather encumbered. As a consequence, it is all the more powerful when he appears in fewer, looser clothes as Lover.

There is always the danger in Arthur Pita’s work that the visual will dominate the choreographic. That was very much what happened with The Wind for The Royal Ballet in 2017. The Mother is not immune. Over the ninety minutes it almost seems that too many things are transformed into something else: a mirror into a door; Jonathan Goddard into his different guises; a bedroom into a garden; a bath into a boat. The piece could even be accused of an excess of eerie theatrical effect, especially at its climax.

The ending, by contrast, is effectively calm. Flashback, or flash forward? It left at least one woman in the audience wondering: ‘Is she going to have another one?’.

John O’Dwyer

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