Director and Choreographer: Arthur Pita
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Hans Christian Andersen’s short story The Story of a Mother details the extent one woman will go to to find her baby after it has been taken by Death.
Arthur Pita’s translation of the work to the stage, premiering at the Southbank Centre, transposes the tale to a large, but rundown, Russian apartment. Dancer Natalia Osipova at first seems full of angry exhaustion as her sick baby cries relentlessly. But when Jonathan Goddard’s doctor – who may or may not be the Death of Andersen’s original tale – takes the baby away, Osipova’s quest takes her from room to room, encountering fantastical characters (all played by Goddard) and variety of personal challenges.
From an elderly babushka with the apparent ability to force the Mother to perform Russian folk dances, to a rose gardener who wraps her in a vine of thorns that cause her to bleed all over, the visual get progressively more bizarre and gruesome.
The allegorical parts of Andersen’s original story remain, if slightly modified in this retelling. It is still possible to imagine that all the abuses inflicted upon Osipova’s Mother are manifestations of grief and guilt at the death of her child, that the blind fisherman who plucks out the mother’s eyes for his own use is a manifestation of her wish to give anything to get her child back.
That the story plays out either as metaphor, or as fantastical kidnap, is the show’s biggest strength. Oddly though, given Osipova’s stature in the dance world, it is Goddard who frequently comes out of each sequence as having the more interesting choreography. Each of his appearances springs fully realised and different from the next; in comparison, Osipova’s gradual descent into grief-fuelled madness comes across as rather flatter.
But throughout, the sense of malevolence, of grief, of maternal passion, comes across. This is helped by an atmospherically haunting score, played live on stage by composers Frank Moon and Dave Price, which Underlines the funereal aspect of the whole piece.
A heavy evening, then: there is not much in the way of humour to counterbalance the relentless grimness of Pita’s vision. But it is a piece that is to be applauded for the boldness of its presentation, the quality of its choreography, and its attempt to tell an unusual story with the best that ballet has to offer.
Runs until June 22 2019 | Image: Mikah Smillie