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The Metamorphosis, originally a novella by Kafka, is the story of Gregor Samsa, a young businessman working to provide for his parents and sister. One morning, Gregor wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect and, accordingly, unable to go to work.

Choreographer and director Arthur Pita’s theatrical reinterpretation of The Metamorphosis combines dance, music, drama, and design to tell the story of the transformation of Gregor, his family members, and their respective relationships. Originally produced by the Royal Ballet for the Linbury Studio Theater at the Royal Opera House, this highly acclaimed production is making its U.S. premiere at the Joyce Theater now through September 29, 2013. I had the pleasure of attending on September 19.

Throughout the performance, I found myself thinking quite a bit about my family, especially my father. I had let him know I was going to see a danced version of The Metamorphosis and, curious, he asked me “So, how does one dance like an insect? What will the dancer do? Jump a lot? Fly?” His questions seemed silly to me in that moment but later, as I sat in the theater, I found myself wondering the same things.

Edward Watson, Royal Ballet principal, was featured in the role of Gregor Samsa. Watson is a dancer who moves with exceptional clarity. Every detail—a flick of the wrist, slight wiggle of the foot, or slow fanning of the toes—was executed with such precision that one couldn’t help but notice each tiny movement. Watson’s depiction of Samsa pre-transformation, composed mostly of varied walking patterns and pantomime—was subtle and engaging. Once transformed into Samsa, the insect, Watson moved through a grotesque, detailed, and repetitive series of twitching, crouching, rolling, undulating movements…and one, startling spring up from the floor. Watson ‘s ability to move seamlessly between these two very different stages in the development of his character’s movement quality was remarkable.

I also noticed quite a bit of isolated foot and toe movements, mostly flexing and pointing, fanning, and wiggling. Thinking back to my father’s earlier question, I wondered if the movements at all suggested ‘insect,’ and if really mattered either way. But, most of the steps were a little bit odd, and turning into an insect is certainly odd, so perhaps they work just fine.

Corey Annand portrayed Grete, Gregor’s younger sister who initially tries to comfort Gregor after his metamorphosis, but ultimately grows vengeful toward him. Annand is not only a lovely ballet dancer, but also a versatile actor who gave a compelling depiction of Grete’s progression through a myriad of emotions.

Anton Skrzypiciel’s portrayal of Mr. Samsa was mostly convincing, except when Skrzypiciel started dancing. Gregor’s father was a harsh, domineering character whose relationship with his son was strained even before the metamorphosis. Upon Gregor’s transformation, their relationship deteriorates even further and Mr. Samsa regards his son with total disgust.  Samsa’s inhospitable personality seemed incompatible with Skrzypiciel’s movement style, which is expansive, generous, and overall very pleasant to watch.

Nina Goldman’s sincere and thoughtful rendition of Mrs. Samsa gave a realistic depiction of what a mother might experience when her child transforms into something so grotesque.  I was especially struck by Goldman’s facial expressions, which showed her character’s oscillation between maternal impulse, sympathy, fear, and revulsion even when the rest of her body was still.

Interspersed within the main storyline, brief vignettes that evoked feelings of humor, joy, and comfort provided much-needed relief from the otherwise unsettling series of events. The most memorable of these was the ‘bearded man dance,’ a trio reminiscent of traditional Jewish dance performed by Bettina Carpi, Sam Archer, and Amir Giles.

If I had to describe Pita’s production in three words, I would pick “clear,” “organized,” and “meticulous.” All components—cues, sounds, costumes, props, set—appeared to have been thoroughly mulled over and systematically planned out. And yet, I left The Metamorphosis rattled and emotionally troubled…and I’m still not entirely sure why.

It may have been that the music—ambient and sometimes jarring—created a rather tense atmosphere. The imagery—floors stained with blackish-brown liquid, shadowy figures crawling down bedroom walls, vulnerable human figures—was pretty alarming, so that may have had something to do with it too. But, I think what really got to me was the story.

Like Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, Pita’s Metamorphosis is a story ballet. The difference is that this story ballet told a tale that genuinely moved me, and I left the theater that night charged with emotion. Though much of what I felt was uncomfortable, even upsetting, it was a welcome change from the emotional disengagement that I usually feel as I leave the theater after a story ballet performance. Unlike any other story ballet I have seen, The Metamorphosis invited me to reflect on my own life experience…and call home to check in with Mom and Dad!

 

Tickets for The Metamorphosis ($10-75) are available here or by calling the Joyce Theater at (212) 242-0800.

Written by Alejandra Iannone

Alejandra is a dancer, philosopher, and educator who lives and works in
New York City. She is a cum laude graduate of the Fordham University/Ailey School
B.F.A. program in New York City, NY, and has had the honor of dancing works by
various choreographers, including Take Ueyama, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Neil Ieremia, and
Donna Salgado. She is a faculty member at The Ailey School—Junior Division, where
she teaches creative movement and ballet and teaches at Astoria Fine Arts Dance + Fitness. Alejandra also holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Temple University, where she did work in the areas of Aesthetics, Philosophy of Dance, and Philosophy of Mind. She is an adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York, where she teaches philosophy.

Whether she is working in philosophy, dance, or some combination of the two, Alejandra
is interested in asking and perhaps answering questions about embodied knowledge.