The ice is melting, the climate is changing, the balance of power is starting to shift. The future holds great uncertainty. 8: METAMORPHOSIS is both a dance performance and a contemporary opera about embracing the changes that lie ahead. Will they come in a gradual process or as a series of painful shocks? After her impressive Bauhaus trilogy, director and choreographer Nicole Beutler returns to the big stage with a new total work of art.
Eight men – dancers, singers and a drummer – draw the audience into a ritual for a new era. Inspired by the mathematical transitions in the illusory art of M.C. Escher, familiar patterns transform into new possibilities. 8: METAMORPHOSIS invites you into a twilight zone, a no-man’s-land that is both hopeful and threatening. Is destruction necessary for us to learn a new way of living together?
The performance is propelled by the frozen rhythm of Henry Purcell’s ‘The Cold Song’. In this haunting aria, a winter spirit laments the coming of spring. He resists it with all his might, but must inevitably melt. Choral singing, virtuoso percussion by drummer Frank Rosaly or Robbert van Hulzen and a filmic soundtrack by composer Gary Shepherd gradually unravel the aria before building to a liberating musical explosion.
Like a ‘visual artist in theatre’, Beutler composes a dance opera according to her own rules. In search of a new perspective, stage and auditorium are inverted. The theatre space becomes a single living organism in which dance, music, lighting design and visual composition merge into a performative experience without bounds.
8: METAMORPHOSIS is winner of the VSCD Mimeprice 2020/2021 and of the price of MusicTheaterNOW 2021, was nominated for the VSCD Swan for one of the best productions of the season 2020/21 and received a five star review in the Volkskrant.
The production had its premiere during the Operadagen Rotterdam, and was received with great acclaim. The fantastic percussionist Frank Rosaly opens the performance with his back to the audience with a long and virtuoso drum solo.
Then seven other men join him on the scene. Everyone wears fashionable, tight-fitting business suits, all gray, uniform, and yet, unlike in Lazarus, characters emerge. Are they industrial managers, lawyers, brokers? People who belong or want to belong to the world of money and power. They all sing, dance and act masterfully.
The music, by Nicole Beutler's house composer Gary Shepherd, and partly razor-sharp sung by the dancers, is a collage of chord sequences from the frost-scene of Purcell's King Arthur (the scene in which a spirit trapped in the ice describes how it slowly stiffens in the environment) and atmospheric electronic sounds. Accompanied by Purcell's increasingly dissonant harmonies, we see the worlds of certainties depicted by the clothes of the men, continue to disintegrate.
The set is inspired by the mathematical transitions in the delusional art of M.C. Escher and designed by Julian Maiwald, consisting of metal pipes and luminous rods. It appears at first to stand solidly, but soon also begins to move seemingly more and more disorderly.
To complete the disintegration, the figures change into fauns or into what appear to be figures from a painting by Arcimboldo, or Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. They finally stiffen, like the figure Daphne of Greek mythology, who turned into a tree, described in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', as a consolation for what had happened to her as a result of the acts of the gods, but what a bad consolation that was, I already thought as a grammar school student, if from now on you can only look around yourself but are actually catatonic.
Meanwhile, we look out over a monumental landscape that unfolds as the dividing wall between the auditorium and the stage rises (the audience sits on the stage), and we see the actual theater hall, where a lone tree stands, amid beautifully built-up fog from the smoke machine. In the closing scene, that tree is engulfed by the mist. Does this depict the life that has disappeared from the earth are we back to a lifeless prehistoric age? Or is this a future unification with nature, albeit not harmonious, but gray and ominous, as in a painting by Caspar David Friedrich?
8: Metamorphosis. Concept, direction, choreography Nicole Beutler together with dancers and musicians Felix Schellekens, Dominic Kraemer, Arnout Lems, Sebastian Pickering Pedersen, Rob Polmann, Timo Tembuyser, Christian Guerematchi and Frank Rosaly, Music Henry Purcell and Gary Shepherd, Lighting design Minna Tiikkainen, Scenography Julian Maiwald, Premiere Operadagen Rotterdam.
5 november 2019
uit: Blog Basia con Fuoco, Neil van der Linden
"The great staging and play of light – the latter signed by Jedi light master Minna Tiikkainen – draw a lot of power from the fact that we as an audience are sitting on stage, looking at the room closed off by a screen."
Somewhere in the middle of the play, the eight men come together. In between singing the undertones of The cold song—Henry Purcell's song taken apart in 8: Metamorphosis—they speak, sigh and whisper words: “Mentalities, Mannerism, Shaman, German, nymphomaniac, menopause, mango”.
Outside in the world it is now clear: we are pushing ourselves into a new, unknown future with regard to the climate. In the theatre, Nicole Beutler scrutinizes masculinity – also phonetically – in order to accept the necessary changes of our era. The search for a new manhood as an example of the changing power systems around us. It's not just the ice that is melting.
Lying on the floor, the searching men form chains, or they jump flat on the floor as in a swimming performance and then hop across the hall in a push-up position. Gestures of power – muscle here, proud chest there – are deprived of their meaning in the choreography and exposed to other possibilities. Just like the men themselves, by the way: tight, gray suits, ties and shirts are gradually being removed. The symbolism is obvious: with M.C Escher's prints as the ideal source of inspiration, we are witnessing a metamorphosis, stretching across space and time.
The wonderful staging and play of light – the latter signed by Jedi light master Minna Tiikainen – draw a lot of power from the fact that we, the audience, are sitting on stage, looking at the room closed off by a screen. The iron steels to which the theater lights are normally attached are used a few times to emphasize the impressive height above our heads and give us the feeling that we are wandering in the same underground pit as the eight beings with whom we share the space.
While the relatively cold, choreographic exercises are used to portray the transformation of the men á la Escher, music and singing touch a deeper chord. In the scenes where the performers try out The Cold Song, they come to life and become vulnerable. The concentration is visible and gives a human charge to a performance that undoubtedly demands a lot outside everyone's comfort zone. Frank Rosaly is already setting the tone as the audience takes their seats, accompanying us with an improvisation behind his drum kit. Later, in one of the most intense moments of the performance, he jerks the seven dancers/singers through the space with a growing sound chaos, to give us the final push towards…
Metamorphosis as an idea actually fits well with Nicole Beutler's way of doing things. The booklet that is handed out on arrival is evidence of a rich conceptual content, and the result feels like a quest full of curiosity and loose knots, at times even (in a positive way) unfinished. The performance asks the spectator to contribute, to think along, and thanks to the impressive structure of some images, the musical choices and the work of the performers, this is always an invitation and never a requirement. Yet the abundance of elements and ideas ultimately counteracts the dramaturgy of the piece, it does not want to take off and so we keep spinning around in the twilight.
Once the suits are taken off, a light suddenly shines behind the screen. "Finally!" calls the expectation and yes, it happens: the curtain is raised and we are allowed to look into the audience hall, to a sea of fog full of looming velvet-red chairs. A red lamp glows like a setting sun in the depths and just before that a fragile tree completes the fantasy. Mighty.
One by one, just before that, the quasi-naked men disappeared into the shadows. They also come back one by one and then slowly walk into the room, dressed in crazy costumes, past man, animal, plant or machine. An absurdist wink, but unfortunately: the transition to this reveal is so long-winded that it finally looks like the trailer of a new film. The value of what we have all built up in the first hour is not carried over the red armchairs into the room, and as a result the beautiful closing image has slightly less impact.
And while it doesn't diminish the overall value of a brave and grandiose work, it's a shame: I would have loved to have accompanied them to the new beginnings.
Science fiction audio-visual installation that morphs into a dance performance with opera inserts, happening in a theatre with the audience sitting on the stage facing the auditorium is not something one sees everyday. It is Nicole Beutler’s new dance opera named 8: Metamorphosis that explores a big array of existential issues, from global warming, masculinity and humanity, to repetition and destruction.
The performance begins almost without a beginning, while the audience is moving onto the stage, as the already present, seemingly distressed drummer is beating the drums on the dark stage with only one light shining on him. An all-male cast of seven performers, together with the drummer, dressed in business suits appears on the stage. An immersive audio-visual installation starts to happen as the set-holding structure above the stage is dropped and then stopped just above the heads of the performers. A beautiful variable pattern emerges on the stage because of the lights above these set frames, which move up and down and at one point envelop the actors half way; together with the effect of music combined with the drumming lures me into a dream-like anxious, yet intrigued state.
After the oscillation of the stage set, the actors start dancing and forming various wave-like sculptures or position themselves in somewhat repetitive postures, gaining speed and momentum, resulting in almost chaotic dancing. Perhaps a parallel between ocean’s currents and bodily fluids could be drawn here, and their constant flow and relatively unmarked transformation that Nicole Beutler was interested in staging. After this initial part, the singing begins using only one song throughout the performance from Henry Purcell’s King Arthur. The song is titled the Song of the Cold Genius and ends with mesmerising ‘let me freeze again to death’. The performers all anonymously dressed in business suits end up metamorphosed into what one might consider to be things that we as humans are destroying — a bee, a forest, fellow humans. The opera reaches a climax with the stage opening up and showing the empty auditorium, with one tree in the midst of a dense fog, into which the transformed actors slowly disappear, and out of which a polar bear crawls out and dies on the stage surrounded by a thick fog.
8: Metamorphosis explores the transition space regarding ecological awareness that we are currently in, the inhuman in humans, the change accompanied by destruction and the change without it. As it is written in the brilliant booklet supporting the performance, it is encouraging us to ask brave questions and look into the future, for we must negotiate a new deal. How do we define anew the role of men in a time that calls for de-centering both of masculinity and of humanity
8:METAMORPHOSIS at the Nieuwe Luxor.
Uit: Arts Talk Magazine, door Eva Tisnikar
"The actors are fantastic. The movements in complete synergy, the singing heavenly, the intention convincing. It is all unparalleled. The highlight is the moment when the spectators on stage gaze into the audience. Truly one of the most beautiful stage images ever. The tears spring to your eyes spontaneously. Grandiose."
Nicole Beutler makes beautiful theatre. One of the highlights of her oeuvre was one of the most beautiful pieces we have ever seen Dido Dido. That sets the bar high when there is a new performance in which Purcell's work is a pillar again.
The invitation to the performance says: “The ice is melting, the climate is changing, established power relations are beginning to shift. A great uncertainty lies ahead of us. 8: METAMORPHOSIS is a dance performance and a contemporary opera about embracing the upcoming changes. Will that be a gradual process or will it happen in painful jerks? Is destruction necessary before we learn to live together in a new way. The actors are fantastic. The movements in complete synergy, the singing heavenly, the intention convincing. It's all unmatched. The highlight is the moment when the spectators on stage gaze into the audience. Truly one of the most beautiful stage images ever. The tears suddenly spring to your eyes. Grandiose.
Had that been the final chord, we could have floated out of the room. Able to think about change, and what we can do about it ourselves. And how we can break the straitjacket of gender roles. And what we actually want together. But the piece doesn't stop there. The men in their metamorphosis disappear very slowly into the mist. And then a polar bear staggers forward and dies.
It begs the question: If theater wants to challenge people, make them think, want to achieve something that makes the world more beautiful, then why an apocalyptic vision of the future as the final chord of a performance that previously so beautifully and subtly aimed for change, which touched by its splendor. This raises the question of how you want to get your message across, and how much. The fact that you can think about it and talk about it for a long time shows the strength of Beutler.
"Impressive is the descending grid of light, which holds the dancers captive."
The drum kit is having a hard time. Even before the start of 8: Metamorphosis Frank Rosaly thrashes his instrument with forks, feet, bells and nails. An insane energy breaks loose from the fanatical percussion. The drum set holds it half way. Then the attack becomes too ferocious; it loses its structure under the pull of eight performers (seven dancers cum singers, plus the drummer who also moves and sings). That is exactly the intention of this impressive dance opera, for which choreographer Nicole Beutler and composer Gary Shepherd were inspired by the famous work of graphic artist M.C. Escher, Ovid's Metamorphoses and The Cold Song from Henry Purcell's opera King Arthur. Those who want to change must dare to break, those who want to deform must thaw structures.
Seven dancers come up, tight in suits, seven shades of gray. They move in rectilinear patterns, differences appear by phasing: lying down, rolling, stepping, bending. When Rosaly joins them, they slowly build on the (manipulated) staccato sounds of The Cold Song with beautifully polyphonic utterances. In the libretto, a winter spirit refuses to thaw to make way for spring. In this dance opera it is the patriarchal structure that refuses to soften. Impressive is the descending grid of light, which spreads over the dancers like an Escher work brought to life and holds them captive. As with Escher's shifting black-white-grey patterns, the repeating simplicity does its enchanting work; lighting designer Minna Tiikkainen illuminates the grid (moving racks from which pieces of scenery are lifted) from the roof. The audience is on stage, as are the performers. Then comes the transformation. The suits go out. Variegated souls creep out. Water vapor rises. We look into an empty room. That emptiness frightens and encourages: space for something new. A stumbling polar bear dares to sleep peacefully. We can change, if we want and dare. Just like these makers.
Cast & Credits
Concept, direction, choreography: Nicole Beutler
Music: Gary Shepherd, Henry Purcell & the performers
Dramaturgy & context: Igor Dobricic
Created & performed by: Arnout Lems, Christian Guerematchi (until 2021), Dominic Kraemer, Felix Schellekens, Rob Polmann, Sebastian Pickering Pedersen, Timo Tembuyser
Second cast: Cesirhe Sedney, Drew Santini, João Dinis Pinho, Tijmen Teunissen
Percussion 2022: Robbert van Hulzen (created with Frank Rosaly)
Special appearance: João Dinis Pinho or Liah Frank
Costumes: Jessica Helbach & the performers
Scenography: Julian Maiwald & Nicole Beutler
Lighting design: Minna Tiikkainen
Technique: Julian Maiwald (space), Prem Scholte Albers / Colin Kassies (light), Valentijn Berckhout/ Pieter-Jan Buelens (sound)
Tourmanager: João Dinis Pinho
Production: Nicole Beutler Projects
Coproduction: O. Festival Rotterdam, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
With the support of: Ammodo, Fonds 21, Fonds Podiumkunsten, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst