Choreographer: Maria Caruso
Serious contemporary dance rarely gets a West End outing, so it is an interesting sight to witness US-based dancer Maria Caruso’s intimate solo piece Metamorphosis in a Shaftesbury Avenue theatre.
The shallow rake of the Lyric’s stalls initially works against the opening moments of Caruso’s piece, as her floor work risks being partially obscured by the heads of other audience members. Such concerns are short-lived, however, as within minutes the dancer is on her feet and fully visible, as she remains throughout.
Metamorphosis concentrates on stages of a life – maybe Caruso’s own, maybe that of an everywoman – with each section depicted by a different coloured dress, initially hanging across the stage but donned by Caruso for a succession of intense, occasionally harrowing, set pieces.
Accompanied by music by Nils Frahm, Kevin Kelley and Garth Stevenson, Caruso seems to face memories of trauma unlocked by her dresses. Her first dress inspires a clawing at her own skin as if her very body is a prison from which she is struggling to break free.
Similar feelings of oppression haunt her second dress, whose green hues ally with Caruso’s choreography to suggest a life wandering in a forest. But here, the trauma seems to be more external: impenetrable walls enclose her, only restoring her freedom once the dress is, like the others, discarded at the front of the stage.
In between scenes, Caruso returns to the bolt of flesh-covered material in which she was first wrapped. In a series of masterful flourishes, it transforms from a long, flowing scarf, into a veil, a sari, a cocoon, a toga. But its main function seems to be as a security blanket, providing the dancer with reassurance and strength as she returns to it each time.
The third dress, a scarlet red number, seems to be the first to provide joy. Adorned in it, Caruso cavorts in a series of Latin-inspired sensuous moves; the sense, perhaps, that the trauma of youth is behind her and that the metamorphosis of the title is truly underway. In time, too, that is discarded: not with disgust and cries of despair, like its predecessors, but acceptance and even affection.
The fourth and final dress provides the shortest piece of choreography, and perhaps the most obvious transformation yet, as the bolt of fabric gets bundled up and cradled as if protecting a newborn baby. While the impression of holding a child feels slightly clichéd, there is a power to the combination of dress and sheet, elements of costuming which have hitherto remained defiantly separate.
The transformation from troubled child to happy mother may not be one which all of Metamorphosis’ audience can directly relate, but there can be no doubting the precision, intensity and clarity of witnessing one of dance’s foremost practitioners performing such an intensely personal piece.
One more performance on 4 July 2022