A triumph for Dutch National Ballet: David Dawson’s Metamorphosis

Online (filmed at Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam)
April 29, 2021

Maggie Foyer

Metamorphosis is a magical ballet. Filmed on the vast stage of the Muziektheater a space no longer defined by the customary markers of wings, pit or audience, the work looks like an untethered galaxy of glittering stars in the midnight blue. It is timeless but every carefully chosen detail speaks of the here and now.

Costumed in basic white dancewear, set against a dark surround with deceptively artless lighting, the dance is central. From the tentative opening steps, as Anna Ol and James Stout circle the periphery to find one another, to the final moment as Riho Sakamoto melts into the darkness blowing a farewell kiss, each step has a reason and a meaning.

Edo Wijnen in Metamorphosis by David DawsonPhoto Hans Gerritsen
Edo Wijnen in Metamorphosis by David Dawson
Photo Hans Gerritsen

Philip Glass’ minimal notes, driving, insistent and restless incite the emotions to a pitch both uncomfortable and intensely desirable. For each of Glass’s five movements, David Dawson creates a different mood and a different structure synchronising the two art forms, flawlessly accompanied by Olga Khoziainova.

The opening duet has an edge of uncertainty, but the tenderness is real, evident in telling glances and heads softly inclined. The fluid movements shift constantly between states of unbalance as limbs wrap and entwine across bodies, searching out diagonals. The sudden upward thrust of a high sustained lift brings an exhilarating pause but it is only in the final moments, tensions resolved, that the couple dance side by side, mirrored in unison before she is carried into the darkness.

Riho Sakamoto in Metamorphosis by David DawsonPhoto Hans Gerritsen
Riho Sakamoto
in Metamorphosis by David Dawson
Photo Hans Gerritsen

The second movement, for ten dancers, references Petipa’s traditional corps de ballet structure, as dancers repeat phrases in canon and trios and quartets find symmetry in patterns except now, each dancer is an expressive individual. The classical form is displayed in geometric arabesques, the fine musculature of a stretched leg and cemented fifths, all sweetened by passionate ports de bras and distinctive hand position. It is stark in its simplicity, and exquisite in its intricate structure.

The dynamics of the music become bolder in the third movement and the energy levels get a sharp uptick as Edo Wijnen followed by Joey Massarelli soar through the air dancing their hearts out and matching the restless music in their virtuosic brilliance. Young Gyu Choi and Sem Sjouke join the champions in this race of thoroughbreds but it is Wijnen who gets the last arabesque.

The entrance of a trio of women brings a quieter energy. Extravagant arms mimicking the flow and breadth of wings and arched upper backs set the style. The men enter and claim their partners as the pace quickens, melding into duets that flow and fly and melt to the floor. Floor Eimers who captures Dawson’s style so well, closes the section, running the last lap with the grace of a swan queen.

Riho Sakamoto is a dancer whose warmth and humanity can fill an auditorium and even cross the digital divide. In the closing solo, she illuminates the vast space, running through the darkness like a beacon of hope.  Dawson’s choreography encapsulates the ecstasy, exquisitely phrased, inventing the movement to capture the moment. The strong sweep of a leg prompts an afterglow of circling arms: arms that have a poetry all of their own.

Metamorphosis is a ballet that is destined to become a classic of contemporary ballet. Altin Kaftira’s filming invites the viewer into the work. He draws close to capture the enigma in a glance, the passion in an arched back, the rapture in sinews stretched to extremes but knows when to show the dance on full stage. A triumph for Het Nationale.