Thursday, September 19, 2013

Monstrous insect slimes the Joyce

The Royal Ballet's Edward Watson
as Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis
Certain types of dance events, certain companies and certain choreographers bring out critics I never or rarely run into anywhere else around New York's diverse dance environment, and you know exactly what I mean. They land in flocks and, yes, the fall migrants are landing--with good reason--for The Royal Ballet's export of The Metamorphosis, a major coup for the new Joyce Theater season.

Choreographed by Arthur Pita and premiered in 2012, the award-winning production stars Royal principal Edward Watson as Franz Kafka's tormented Gregor Samsa. The regal Watson bends--I should say, contorts like crazy--to the task of transforming himself from a rigid, driven traveling salesman, stuck in a life of sterile routine, into a bug of indeterminate species drooling viscous brown liquid from its mouthparts and sliming the super-clean bedroom where his horrified family has confined him. (Simon Daw's massive and pristine white set design, lit by Guy Hoare, is already a nightmare just waiting to become something even worse.) Watson's grotesque physical performance as man-trapped-in-exoskeleton truly astonishes as much as it repels, and it is with no small relief that, for long stretches of the 90 minutes, we're given leave to gaze aside at a host of characters who make up Samsa's world.

Watson's duet with Nina Goldman (Samsa's mom)
Of these, Bettina Carpi (wonderful as the family's hearty, amusingly unflappable maid) and Corey Annand (Gregor's kid sister, Grete) have the most interesting roles. And it is the aspiring ballerina Grete's own monstrous transformation--from loving, if giddy, child to angry, rock-hearted adult, largely shown through the development of her ballet technique--that helps Pita suggest a long passage of time.

I read somewhere that Watson thinks composer Frank Moon's live performance tops his own, and--at great risk of being unfair to the amazing Watson--I must admit that thought did cross my mind at least once. Moon, stationed below one corner of the stage, serves as another good landing place for one's troubled gaze. At times, I'd watch him leaning into the mic to deliver atmospheric vocals over his recorded and live playing. His brilliant score--featuring guitar, oud, violin, tam-tam and voice--combines precision and madness, a monstrous beauty.

The Metamorphosis runs through September 29 at The Joyce Theater. Click here for a complete schedule of shows and ticketing information.

175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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