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Edward Watson & The Metamorphosis – A Royal Ballet Production….

September 24, 2013
Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

The stage is set when you walk into the Joyce for The Metamorphosis – A Royal Ballet Production. Designed by Simon Daw, on one side of the stage is the kitchen/living area for the Samsa family. Mrs. Samsa is seated at the table drying dishes; Mr. Samsa is absorbed in his newspaper and their daughter Grete is on the floor doing her homework, a scene of domestic simplicity and normality.

On the other side of the stage is a room, dark and stark, Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa is in a bed, covered up to his neck by white sheets that are so tight they seem to have him bound into an unyielding embrace.

This is the setting for Joyce’s two-week run of The Metamorphosis – A Royal Ballet Production, choreographed and directed by Arthur Pita and featuring the Royal Ballet’s principal dancer, Edward Watson. Last year Mr. Watson won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in dance for his performances as Gregor Samsa in London.

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

I had seen Mikhail Baryshnikov directed by Steven Berkoff in the 1989 production of The Metamorphosis, and though witty, lacked any of the darkness or despair that is ripe in Kafka’s play. Where Steven Berkoff’s seemed more a parody, Arthur Pita leans into the more somber tones of the work.

Edward Watson’s transformed himself from a person trapped in an urban existence of mundane conformity into a helpless being whose has accepted his fate of awaking to discover he has been transformed into an insect in his sleep.

Mr. Watson uses his body in ways unparalleled in physical theater. His limbs bend and fold at odd angles, his neck is extends in way that makes it appear his head would like to disassociate from the rest of his body. But it is Mr. Watson’s feet and especially his toes that are a thing of wonder. They reach and wiggle like legs or the antenna of an insect, every moving, every reaching, searching, exploring the environment, seeking something identifiable.

Mr. Watson’s transformation into Kafka’ insect is just not in a physical sense, his eyes seemed vacant as if his humanity has receded to the back of his being and this insect presence has fully taken over. Black bile spills for his mouth and coats his chest; his body becomes covered in this same inky substance. Mr. Watson performance was as much repugnant as it was fascinating.

The Samsa family copes with Mr. Watson’s transformation with varying degrees of emotion. His younger sister, Grete, portrayed by Corey Annand, is an aspiring ballerina, wide-eyed innocence is mingled with turned-in tendu’s that are performed at an imaginary barre. She is the first to approach her brother, more optimistic in her regard to him. She tries to straighten his limbs, only to have them spring back into awkward angles the moment she let’s go. She hopes that music will mend the savage beast so she brings her phonograph player into the bedroom only to discover that the music in not soothing but rather distresses the insect. But this patience is soon to become vexed when the insect comes into the living area and scares away the newly acquired borders the family had in taken due to the lack of Gregor’s income.

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

Edward Watson as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis Photo by ©Tristram Kenton

Nina Goldman as Mrs. Samsa is the patient mother, hopefully but reticent to confront her son and see his alarming transformation. When she does go into the room, at the insistence of Grete, she faints when she sees him. A worried and concerned Gregor grapples with his unconscious mother in an attempt to remove her from his room. Mr. Samsa, just returning home, sees his wife and assumes that the insect has attacked her. Mr. Samsa beats the insect back into the recesses of it’s darkened room with a rolled up newspaper.

Frank Moon, who created the music composition and performed during the performance, has created a haunting soundscape that is a mixture of yearning, longing, fear and acceptance. It was the perfect blend for the creation of the whole picture.

The Metamorphosis – A Royal Ballet Production is not a pretty dance piece, not at all. But it is ripe with imagery, though at times disturbing it is still rich with emotion. Edward Watson excelled beyond anything I had hoped for in his portrayal and transformation into the insect of Kafka’s vision.

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