Natalia Osipova is at the peak of her artistry as a ballet dancer, an international superstar famed for her steely technique, powerful jump and ability totally to absorb herself within a role. She is also a restless artist, interested in stretching her talent beyond the confines of classical ballet. Contemporary, bare foot dancing is one avenue; dance theatre another.
In Arthur Pita, Osipova has found a choreographer whose interest in the darkest recesses of the human psyche and taste for the outlandish were sure to provide her with a powerful challenge. Pita obliged, creating a role where she is required to draw on all her acting ability to convey through expressionist movement the growing anguish of a bereft mother.
Briefly, Hans Christian Andersen’s tale tells of a mother whose sickly baby is taken away by Death. She embarks on a journey to get her child back, on the way being forced to give everything she owns, including her eyes, hair and a lot of blood for the chance to get her child back, before she finally accepts God’s will and lets go.
Pita foregoes the mystical overtones of Andersen’s morality tale in favour of a Freudian approach, a graphic, claustrophobic and profoundly disturbing account of this mother’s fears, punctuated throughout by the insistent heart-wrenching cry of a baby.
To the disquieting sound of Frank Moon and Dave Price’s score, performed live by the composers themselves, the journey of Pita’s Mother is contained within her own shabby home, an ingenious, if constraining, tripartite rotating set by his regular collaborator Yann Seabra, that points towards early-20th century Russia.
Osipova is joined on stage by the amazingly versatile dancer Jonathan Goddard, who plays no less than seven roles, in all but one as Osipova’s tormentor under a variety of guises and bizarre costumes, including a voluminously dressed Russian Babushka with no face, a gardener in full drag, and Death himself.
He also plays her soldier lover (the dead baby’s father?), in a loving dream scene that provides Osipova and the audience with brief, but much needed, respite from the unremitting sequence of horrors that went before and comes after.
Osipova dances with ferocious belief and commitment, her physical facility and expressiveness allowing her to extract every last ounce of pain and horror from each movement, be it a back bend or a split arabesque, a soaring jump or the powerless cradling of an inconsolable baby.
Goddard, a strong, intense dance actor matches Osipova step by harrowing step.
Arthur Pita spares us nothing. The scene where the Ferryman gouges out The Mother’s eyes is horrifically graphic; equally disturbing is the realistic doll of the naked lifeless baby, with its flopping limbs and grey skin.
Notwithstanding the stellar performances and high production values, and despite The Mother’s rosy epilogue, you leave feeling battered and vaguely abused. There’s much to admire in Arthur Pita’s The Mother, but little to enjoy.
|What||Arthur Pita/Natalia Osipova, The Mother Review|
|Where||Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
20 Jun 19 – 21 Jun 19, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 30 mins
|Price||£30-£70 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Southbank Centre|