The word metamorphosis has a certain ambiguity to it or, at least, different ways of interpreting it. Does it indicate change for the better as with a beautiful butterfly emerging from it cramped pupa or can it induce fear as with poor Gregor Samsa who awakes one morning to find himself transformed into an ungeheueres Ungeziefer, a monstrous vermin in Franz Kafka’s story? Metamorphosis can be for better or worse.
Nicole Beutler, as part of her cycle about the state of our planet, has her own take on the word. Her 8: Metamorphosis is billed as a dance opera about embracing the upcoming changes. Now, if you were expecting a bit of pointe work, the odd tutu and a fat soprano you’d have another think coming. This piece, as with most of Beutler’s work defies, and has contempt for, bourgeois preconceptions. There are lots of ways of interpreting the Earth’s plight, myriad ways of looking at remedies, and Beutler has many of them.
As we were ushered in we experienced the first metamorphosis – the stage of Het Nationale Theater in The Hague had become the auditorium and we found ourselves, not in the spotlight, but certainly where the spotlight usually is. We were accompanied by a drummer sitting almost in the front row, hitting not only his drums, but lots more besides. As the lights dimmed he was joined by seven young men, all in smart suits, collar and ties who marched briskly onto the stage taking up their positions before executing a series of manoeuvres inspired by the bizarre patterns and mathematical impossibilities of EC Escher. The drummer put down his sticks and the soundtrack became a beautiful a capella harmony rendition of Purcell’s exquisite Cold Song from King Arthur.
It then all changed again with the drummer returning to his stool and bashing his drums so loud we realised why we had been offered earplugs upon entering. It rapidly turned into a Keith Moon moment with the rest of the performers joining in and wildly attacking the drums and smashing up the kit, scattering cymbals and tom-toms across the stage along with cast-off jackets and ties.
Then the metamorphosis started in earnest with the performers slowly disappearing into the shadows, gradually emerging as exotic and wondrous creatures with lots of feathers, fur and foliage in evidence. Then the gauze that had been the backdrop rose to reveal the theatre’s fine auditorium bathed in swirling mist with a lone, dishevelled tree as a sad centre piece. The motley crew of creatures resignedly made its way into the haze until they were consumed by it, leaving behind the debris. And then, from the depths, slowly emerged a polar bear, familiar from other pieces in Beutler’s Rituals of Transformation trilogy. The white bear, at the same time a symbol, perhaps, of survival in the face of overpowering adversity and one of the animals most at risk from climate change.
Two things are for sure. Firstly, that the end of the world has always been nigh and secondly that metamorphosis, for better or worse, is part of everyday life and the world we live in – plus ça change . . . Michael Hasted 28th December 2022