BWW Reviews: The METAMORPHOSIS
I wanted to read Kafka's Metamorphosis before attending the Royal Ballet's production bearing the same name. But my own Kafkesque world intervened, so I never had the chance to follow Gregor and his transformation from human being to bug. I can only judge the production on its own merits, and not compare it to the book which, I think, is only fair.
Metamorphosis, choreographed and directed by Arthur Pita, never involved me, or made me care, about the production's subject, or even the work itself. It was perplexing. We are introduced to the Samsa family: father, mother, sister and son, Gregor. But who are they? There is no sense of time; are they living in the 1950s, the 70? I couldn't make it out, which is a big part of the equation. We want to know where and when. I was left wondering why.
Gregor, the main character of this 90-minute long piece, described in the playbill as a "dance theater adaptation after Franz Kakfa", is a man stuck in a boring job, something that is reiterated over and over in the first 15 minutes. One day he wakes up to find that he is no longer a member of the human race, but an insect. We are presented with interesting and searing ideas. They should really perk us up to what's coming.
But they don't. How long can we watch a dancer performing the part of an insect? Once we see Gregor transformed, his movements hover between the pretzeled, contorted, coiled, and acrobatic. Many critics and audience members in London were highly impressed. I wasn't, because Allegra Kent did the same thing when she appeared in many of Balanchine's ballets, which didn't last for 90 minutes.
As Gregor transforms, he is covered with brown gook or gunk, depending upon how you define it. Slimy, greasy, disgusting, he frightens his family, who depend on him for cash, since he seems to be the only one bringing home any source of income, and, as a bug, he wouldn't exactly fly in the office. So what do they do? Take in boarders. Not your usual boarders, but three people resembling Hasidic Jews, who perform a dance with mother, father and daughter. Does this sound strange? I thought so. Why are three Hasidim there? The program describes them as "Bearded Men," but this is not the world of Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Babel, or even Fiddler on the Roof. Kafka had his own ambivalent relationship to Judaism, but I don't recall hearing about Hasidim in his home. To bring the story to its conclusion, Gregor appears and scares the living hell out of them. The family, bereft and bereaved by this loss of income, turn on Gregor with such venom and spite that he takes the only way out, suicide. As Ethel Barrymore used to say, "That's all there is, there isn't anymore."
To me, that was only the beginning, because I sat and pondered about the production for three days after seeing it. I was so looking forward to it, I wanted to like it and shower it with bravos, but I couldn't. Had the production been shortened and tightened, it would have been good, even excellent. I wonder if someone had any input other than the choreographer when Metamorphosis was being created. It needed anothe pair of insightful eyes.
I can't fault Edward Watson, a prodigiously talented principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, who took on a Herculean task, one that required intense and rigorous body concentration. That Mr. Watson could do this for an extended time frame was to his great credit. He deserved every accolade he received. But the piece needed more than a body performing on a lopsided bed or crawling on all fours. The message that life is torturous and tedious turned on itself. These words can probably best describe the production itself.
The rest of the production, as I mentioned before, left me feeling, why? Why was it done? Why couldn't it have been shorter? Why was this outstanding dancer put into a production that seemingly tested his endurance, but not really tapped his talent? I applaud anything new, something that extends the line of dance into new territory, a piece that shows us why dance is important and why we should never let the art disappear or dissipate. Along the evening's way, I became disconnected. I can only say that I wish I hadn't.
Photograph: Tristam Kenton