Dutch National Ballet: Metamorphosis review – exquisite dancing in the dark

David Dawson’s choreography sometimes seems in awe of the beauty of the human body. Or a specific type of beauty, 至少: a lean, extravagantly angled exhibition of bodies, stretched and tilted for maximum impact. Here chests are lifted like triumphant gymnasts, lines extended into concave curves, wrists broken like serifs on an elegant font drawn in 0.2 fine liner.

The dancers of Dutch National Ballet know Dawson’s methods well, as the Royal Ballet-trained Brit has been associate artist there since 2015. It’s credit to them that they’ve fully absorbed this work, created mostly over Zoom. You marvel at the fluency of the opening pas de deux between Anna OlJames Stout. He scooping her endlessly malleable frame from the floor to fly above his head and dive down to the ground again, all in a continuous thread. Ol and Stout’s expressions follow a mode familiar in contemporary abstract ballet: ominous eyes, the sense of a big breath drawn and held, some object of desire or fear just beyond reach. The music, Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis suite for piano, brings the same unspecific gravitas.

In group sections, Dawson leans on simplicity more than convolution, for the better. On a black stage, dressed in basic white, bodies engage in patterning for the uncomplicated pleasure of unison and canon. In score and choreography, the momentum hovers on a level plane until the final solo by Riho Sakamoto shifts things into new territory.

Sakamoto is in a slightly different mould. It’s subtle, but there’s a faintly feisty attack, just a hint of animal movement in her neck and shoulders, and more resistance in her limbs as she pulls out an elongated line or makes serpentine curls; all with a deep strength simmering at the core. She transforms movement into something meaningful, meanwhile there’s an openness in her face, a load lifted, a flicker of a smile caught in the spotlight. Dawson has said the piece is about “finding light in the darkness”, and Sakamoto deftly embodies that metamorphosis.