Review: Stepmothers/Stepfathers, The Place

Arthur Pita, creator of the awarding-winning 2011 adaptation of The Metamorphosis, is back with another stomach-churning production. His new piece, Stepmothers/Stepfathers takes us to the dark distorted side of fairy tales for its first half, and Pita’s 2007 production Stepfather is reimagined for the second. We are taken on a journey through twisted family dynamics and nightmarish worlds of incest and death, all presented beautifully through movement, lighting and staging.

The first half, Stepmother, is a visual feast for the eyes. With six Stepmothers, dressed in magnificent black PVC coat-cape hybrids designed by Yann Seabra and made by Lindsay Hill, they swish and twist around the contorted legs of the dancers with violent gusto. They wear painted-white faces, with their entire mouths painted black, adding to their ominousness. The Ingénue, Corey Claire Annand, is quickly transformed from Snow White, to Cinderella, to Rapunzel using clever costume changes. The imagery is striking and sometimes troubling, and in moments feels almost like we are in a fever dream. It is unquestionably not for the faint hearted, or anyone who finds two children having their eyes removed and eaten particularly disturbing. Seabra’s props, specifically eyes and chopped-off toes, are gory but simple and reminiscent of toys, making their use in the routine even more macabre. Annand moves with grace and smoothly and subtly portrays the innocence of the girls she embodies. Christopher Akrill is so enchanting in the climax of the first piece, that he almost evokes sympathy within us for Snow White’s evil stepmother as he bares his body and her soul in a moving segment depicting her struggle to find beauty. Pita’s choreography is haunting and beautiful, drawing emphasis on aspects of the famous stories that we usually like to forget, in favour of a ‘happily ever after’.

The second half, Stepfathers, doesn’t offer a happy ending either. It was originally created for CandoCo, and is inspired by folk punk Country Death Song by cult American indie band Violent Femmes. If an episode of American Horror Story became a dance piece, this would be the result. The eerie jangle of the music makes it easy to understand why Pita was driven to create such a piece around the music. The lead singers monotonous voice reeks of tiredness and ambivalence to life, matching Eugene’s (Karl Fagerlund Brekke) vacant expression. In his braces and with lank hair strewn over his eyes, he thumps across the stage with precision and lethargy at the same time. Wylodine (Valentina Golfieri), Nancy Ellen (Annand) and Mary Lou (Clemmie Sveaas) dressed in bright dresses and dancing in unison bring colour and fun, but also a little dose of creepiness and foreboding.

Pita’s creation is lurid and startling, but unique and visually stunning. If you can stomach a few murders here and there and tolerate just a touch of cannibalism, then Stepmothers/Stepfathers is an aesthetically brilliant and wonderfully modern evening of dance that is bound to enchant and disgust.

Stepmother/Stepfather is playing at The Place until March 11.

Photo: Ambra Vernuccio