The Royal Opera House starts its 2011 – 2012 dance season with an unexpected new dance work: The Metamorphosis is the first collaboration between award-winning director and choreographer Arthur Pita and Royal Ballet Principal Edward Watson. After last year’s critically acclaimed God’s Garden at the Linbury, Pita now brings Kafka’s surreal and dark tale to the same stage in his characteristic dance-theatre style. This commission for ROH2 features an eclectic cast and focuses on the relationship and parallels between the main character Gregor Samsa, who awakens one morning to find that he has been transformed into an insect, and his teenage sister Greta (played by Royal Ballet School student Laura Day) who is undergoing her own process of transformation as she enters into adulthood.
Ahead of the premiere on Monday, we quote Ed and Arthur on their collaboration and what we can expect from this exciting new dance work:
I had seen God’s Garden at the Linbury and mentioned it in a short interview I gave for The Independent with my cultural picks. I then bumped into Arthur when he was choreographing the Royal Opera’s production of Carmen, so we got to chat and he mentioned he had “an idea around the book”. From there it all happened quite quickly. A year in all!
The idea just popped into my head. I love the book and wondered whether it could be adapted into a dance piece. I went on holiday to Jamaica and took the book with me. I immediately thought of Ed: I have admired him through the years and thought he’d be really interesting. As I carried on reading I kept imagining Ed interpreting the character and it all became very clear. We pitched the idea to Alison Duthie at ROH2 and she immediately expressed an interest. I thought Gregor Samsa would be a good solo role for him and it’s great that he can explore it given his amazing physicality and abilities.
The link is: they are all creatures. Gregor is becoming an insect and there’s that sense of “becoming a creature”, that connection between the “human” and the “non-human” and that’s where all these influences are, in the sense of someone that has been taken over by something: he’s possessed by that thing. I tend to use the word possession a lot. When I am doing narrative work one aspect I enjoy the most is that sense of character “possession”. It is exciting when you know the performers and they are not behaving like themselves because they have taken something on. In that case we’re still seeing Ed, but he is taking something on and allowing it to come into his body.
In order to observe the little quirks of insects and apply them, inventing Gregor’s own peculiarity of movement, we studied a French documentary on the life of insects – Microcosmos – and we watched David Attenborough. I also watched David Cronenberg: The Fly and Naked Lunch are particularly Kafkaesque. But the elements of horror and the family drama from the book and, again, the theme of “possession” remind me of the movie The Exorcist, where the story also unfolds in the main character’s room: she’s locked in there and people come in and out and visit her. There are so many interesting parallels between both.
On Gregor & Greta
There are major things going on with Gregor and his sister Greta: a constant connection. I was really trying to allow for that connection. In one scene, she plays a song for him and then she has a dream, but is it her dream or his dream? How is she metamorphosising? She’s growing from a girl into a woman. All her struggles and teenage angst and feelings, she’s expressing them on to him. Is it partly her own making that has manifested out on him that way? They have a very interesting relationship. The mother and son also have a weird incestuous relationship, there is an unspoken sexuality going on in that house.
On the Process & Preparations
We all read the book together. I had read it when I was a teenager but revisited it this summer and, afterwards, the group got together and discussed it for nearly a week. And then things came from that week. In the book each sentence can mean four different things – there are lots of autobiographical points and references to Kafka’s own experiences – we had to choose how far to go with that or whether to stick with the main argument, which is what we tried to focus on. Everybody from the group gave input into the characters, it was a very collaborative process.
The piece develops like a little play. We had a coach to train us in certain words we could say in the Czech language, words from the book that characters could say to each other, although my character does not have any lines. Everything from the book is in there, it’s just a different way of telling the story: it really does make sense out of the nonsense way the story is written. The staging is brilliant, in terms of how the setting is divided. Over the main room ordinary things are happening everyday: people are eating, they are watching TV, the mother is doing her exercises, Greta is doing her schoolwork, while in Gregor’s room this transformation is happening. So people enter in and out of there and become affected by that, and that plays a part on their own processes of change.
All images © The Ballet Bag
The Metamorphosis runs from 19 to 24 September 2011 at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House. For information & booking visit the ROH website.
See also: Edward Watson featured in the ROH blog.