I sometimes wonder whether Arthur Pita sleeps well at night, or whether his hours of darkness are populated by the gothic nightmares that provide ample material for his day job.
For if someone can find the sinister layer beneath even the most seemingly innocent tale, Pita is the man to do it.
And so it is with Stepmother/Stepfather, currently showing at The Place. To start with he uncovers the dark menace beneath traditional fairy tales; and in Part Two of the programme he delves merrily into the macabre folklore of redneck America.
Stepmother starts - of course! - with Snow White. As the audience files into the theatre, the stage is set with Snow White in her glass coffin, the poisoned apple resting on her chest. Two groups of three veiled figures in long black robes sit either side - mourners, apparently.
As the house lights dim and Fauré’s Requiem strikes up (sadly in a less than perfect recording, though whether that’s another one of Pita’s peculiarities, who knows?) she’s lifted out of the coffin and the bare bones of her story re-enacted.
The black-clad figures jettison their veils to reveal sinister faces with huge black rectangles for mouths. They morph into various characters, all of whom seem intent on harming the central female character, described in the cast list as “the ingénue” and danced with remarkable resilience by Corey Claire Annand.
Unlike her, all the other figures in Pita’s Stepmother, in their high-heeled black boots, are androgynous: male? female? who knows? who cares?
Snow White evolves into other fairy tales: Cinderella, of course. Less obviously Rapunzel. Hansel and Gretel, whose eyes are plucked out and eaten with blood-chilling relish by scary witch figures. Then Red Riding Hood, whose pursuit and final capture by a long-clawed wolf is not dissimilar to rape.
Throughout all this there isn’t much dancing as such; instead, there’s camp posturing, expressionism movement owing a lot to the German cabaret tradition, and quite a lot of vigorous handling of "the ingénue."
After the interval we’re into inbred, redneck America inspired by the folk punk Country Death Song from the cult American band Violent Femmes. This is Stepfather territory.
Arthur Pita, Stepfather dancer Clemmie Sveaas photo Ambra Venuccio
Stepfather tells a story of incest and murder, and finally a kind of redemption. The Stepfather, the excellent Karl Fagerlund Brekke, falls in love with the Mother (disabled dancer Nadia Adame) to the strains of Ukelele Lady. She brings three daughters into the marriage; one seduces the Stepfather; upon being discovered, he kills her by throwing her down a well and then hangs himself.
There’s more dancing in this piece, although it’s deconstructed movement, seemingly designed to highlight the grotesqueries of the story and its characters: the Mother with her walking stick, the three slightly simple Daughters in their garish satin dresses, the perpetually scruffy, wild-eyed and bewildered Stepfather.
The final sequence brings a mood of unexpected lyricism. The murdered Daughter - a remarkable Clemmie Sveeas - returns to dance (really dance!) around the hanging body of the Stepfather, finally engaging in a macabre but strangely beautiful duet with the dead man.
Pita created the original Stepfather for CandoCo, a mixed company of disabled and able-bodied dancers, ten years go. He has now reworked it and paired it in a double bill with Stepmother, a brand new commission by HeadSpaceDance.
The two pieces go well together and make for a very gothic evening, which is as varied as it is challenging. After all, what else would you expect from Arthur Pita?
Age guidance: 14+
Tuesday 7th March 6.30pm – 7.30pm – Enchanted Worlds Workshops
Grab a drink and make your own spellbinding fairy-tale diorama to take away in this pre-show gathering designed to allow eager audience members to rediscover their inner child. (£5 or free with a ticket for the show on the same night – booking essential)
|Where||The Place, 17 Duke's Road, London, WC1H 9PY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Euston Square (underground)|
02 Mar 17 – 11 Mar 17, 19:30 Tues 7th March 20:00, no perf. 5th & 6th March
|Website||Click here to book via The Place|