Dance: Royal Ballet bugs out with Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’

Edward Watson, as Gregor Samsa, completes his transformation into a bug.  Credit: Tristram Kenton
Edward Watson, as Gregor Samsa, completes his transformation into a bug.
Credit: Tristram Kenton

Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” written in 1915, is essentially a study in interiority. Nothing much happens: A man turns into a bug and his family is floored, at once compassionate and revolted.

Arthur Pita, a choreographer born in South Africa and trained in London, took Kafka’s story, updated it to the 1950s, and changed a few significant details. The result is a handsome, 90-minute dance-theater work that tugs at many emotions, ultimately leaving spectators exhausted. Designer Simon Daw’s set and costumes are crisp and functional. Frank Moon’s music, both live and recorded, saws at our nerves until we are as frazzled as poor Gregor Samsa, the salesman who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a beetle. British dancer Edward Watson rivets our attention in this role, more praying mantis than cockroach with his long limbs and articulate toes.

His devoted little sister (Corey Annand), a violinist in the story, is here rendered as a student dancer; her progress marks the passage of time. Their parents (Nina Goldman and Anton Skrzypiciel), tortured in different ways, evade the issue of their suffering son; the family’s interrelationships are thoroughly Freudian, anchoring the tale to its mittel-European roots. The most winning, least-affected performance is that of Bettina Carpi as the brusque maid charged with cleaning up after Gregor.

This Royal Ballet production won lots of prizes in London two years ago, and it’s certainly a masterpiece of stagecraft, down to the gooey stuff that oozes from the poor creature trapped in his bedroom. But Pita never solves the essential problem: how to turn Kafka’s meditative work into an action-adventure.

Royal Ballet’s “The Metamorphosis”
Through Sept. 29
Joyce Theater,
175 Eighth Ave.


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