The Metamorphosis, Blu-ray (2013)

by | Oct 10, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

 The Metamorphosis, Blu-ray (2013)

Based on the story by Franz Kafka
Performers: Edward Watson (Gregor Samsa)/ Laura Day (Grete Samsa)/ Nina Goldman (Mrs. Samsa)/ Neil Reynolds (Mr. Samsa)/ Bettina Carpi (Maid and others)/ Amir Giles (Train Conductor and others)/ Greig Cooke (Clerk and others)/ The Royal Ballet Company 
Music: Composed and performed by Frank Moon
Director and Choreography: Arthur Pita
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7137 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080p HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.0
No Region Code
Length: 89 minutes
Extras: 8 minutes
Rating: ***** 

I supposed that fairness dictates I state that I will probably never watch this again. Franz Kafka’s suppositions of the human condition itself being nothing but an absurdity I find personally absurd and abhorrent. His own tormented relationship with his father, his conflicting national sentiments (German-Czech) and his Jewishness—which he felt had little to do with who he was—all found its way into his writing, and though he is considered (and most likely is) one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, there is little that is ennobling and uplifting in his work. Nevertheless I do appreciate the talent and can easily perceive the angst in his life that so seeped into his art.

The Metamorphosis is one of his most famous stories: a man wakes up one morning and finds himself transformed into an insect. Kafka himself was not too excited about the idea of the cover art to the story actually depicting the resulting insect, and squashed the idea based on his vision of the creature as being too indistinct and indeterminate for iconographic portrayal. In Arthur Pita’s vision the whole of the ballet actually portrays the transformation in a concrete way, one that might not be faithful to Kafka’s intentions even though Pita is well aware of the difficulties. This is the power of words in the story as opposed to overt visuals. In fact, I kept thinking of Jeff Goldblum’s transformation in the movie The Fly, which is also gradual and graphic, just as here. What is striking about this production is the way that Pita sets the whole thing up, allowing us about 20 minutes of prelude where we see Gregor Samsa in his normal, sanitized existence, getting up and going to work every day, with minimal and clockwork-like interaction with his family. Only daughter Grete offers a semblance of humanity in her relationship with her distressed father.

In fact, in Pita’s vision Gregor is not really transformed at all; based on what we see as his “normal” state of being, already quite deadened, lockstep, and mechanical, his transformation into an insect is really just an actualization of what he already is—a “becoming” or “realization” of his true condition. There are moments of true humanity present, like his concern over his feinted wife when she discovers just how far his change has gone, and the disparate motivations of the family in dealing with the crisis. Nonetheless, this production is unlikely to bring smiles and more likely to incite depression, even while admiring the amazing dancing (Edward Watson, Principal of the ballet, is a stunning athlete and quite astounding) and excellent score, with hints of cabaret, Klezmer, and Kurt Weill, semi-improvised by composer Frank Moon. The work won a South Bank Sky Arts Award, and Pita the 2012 Critic’s Circle National Dance award for Best Modern Choreography. Watson achieved the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. Worth seeing once for a riveting hour and a half of ballet—anything beyond this is your call.

—Steven Ritter

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