On 29 April, International Dance Day, Het Nationale Ballet offered a livestream free of charge via YouTube. The work gifted to viewers was the world premiere of Metamorphosis, choreographed by David Dawson to a piano composition written by Philip Glass and performed by Olga Khoziainova. 

The opening music is spare, elegiac. The placement of the dancers is equally spare: Anna Ol toward the left front corner of the vast black dance floor, James Stout in the far right corner. She takes broad, sliding steps backwards while he takes slow strides forward; they meet in the far left corner. For a moment, she rests her head mournfully on his shoulder. And from this gesture they find their strength, he first, helping her legato legs across the vast shiny floor, pushing her stretched body out in front of him until she finally finds her wings and flies.

Glass was inspired by Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis for his musical composition, the story of a man who wakes up to find himself transformed overnight into a giant beetle. His clumsy attempts to convince his relatives that inside, he is still himself repulses his family. But Dawson’s dancers are neither clumsy or repulsive. They skit and fly, seemingly weightless, the men lifting the women above their heads, the women spreading arms and legs like it’s nothing in their elevated position. Their metamorphosis is something different altogether; from earthbound humans to creatures lighter than air.

Het National Ballet'METAMORPHOSIS'choreografie: David Dawson
Metamorphosis by David Dawson | dancers: Constantine Allen and Floor Eimers | photo: Hans Gerritsen

Throughout the five parts of the piece, the dancers, in different constellations, resemble white moths in their spare white outfits (designed by Eddie Grundy and David Dawson) and running with their arms spread wide and high up behind their backs. I can almost see their gossamer wings when they turn large circles with those arms, the hands bent elegantly at an angle. Metamorphosis III features four male dancers taking turns sliding fiercely along the shiny smooth floor and flying headlong into the darkness in the wings to show off their energy and stamina; in part IV three female dancers stretch their torsos backwards, gazing demurely across one shoulder, to attract the three men who are soon lured onto the stage with them. 

Metamorphosis II is a part for ten dancers, and it is the only instance where I feel I need more of a wide shot to let the alignment of the bodies click before my eyes. Otherwise the camera work by Altin Kaftira is on point. With ten dancers on a laptop screen, the lines become more difficult to discern, which makes me grapple with the rhythm of the sequences. Although the wave of arms sailing upwards like wings, initiated by what seems to be a breath impulse fluttering from one dancer in the diagonal line to the next, is so clear it feels like a living cloud of butterflies basking in the sun.

And like the brief life of those flighty creatures, the piece in its entirety is over before I know it: when Riho Sakamoto beautifully and bravely closes the piece alone on legs that increasingly buckle under her, fighting against the dying of the double battery of floodlights (a design by Bert Dalhuijsen), a mere 35 minutes have passed.

Metamorphosis online

Het National Ballet'METAMORPHOSIS'choreografie: David Dawson
Metamorphosis | choreography: David Dawson | photo: Hans Gerritsen

Featured photo: Hans Gerritsen