It is the remarkable quality of Edward Watson as a dancer that he can convey, with subtlest yet most penetrating effects, the inner life of those characters whom he portrays on stage. I have been fortunate to see every great male dancer of my time: such stars of the Ballets Russes as Massine, Lifar and Dolin, and leading danseurs of the companies in St Petersburg and Moscow and of western ballet during the past half century. None, with the exception of Nicolas Le Riche, has rivalled Watson in the ability to strip character of its externals and find the real man beneath the emotional subterfuges and the caparisons of social manners.
Watson’s portrait of Rudolf in Mayerling, his Palemon in Ondine, the maniac teacher in The Lesson, his elegantly understated Titus in Kim Brandstrup’s allusive Invitus, Invitam all propose artistry of rarest communicative force. The physical outlines of a role he states with a nervous, Egon Schiele clarity, probing the choreography with a questioning and informed line – vividly so in Balanchine’s Four Temperaments. More splendidly, as we see in the return of Arthur Pita’s The Metamorphosis to the Linbury this week, he offers a dance-maker – and his audience – a technique and a physical instrument of unerring truth, and one, essentially, of extraordinary probity.
Pita made this fine realisation of Kafka’s parable – how Gregor Samsa wakes one morning and finds himself turned into a horrible insect – for Watson, and Watson gives his role a heart-tearing reality. We believe. We believe in the contorted limbs, the transformation of man into cockroach, the anguished appeal in the eyes for comprehension, and the desperate inner conflict between a vestigial humanity and the legs and arms, hands and feet, suddenly inhuman in their actions. We believe in the exuded slime and the terrifying loss of identity, the otherness of feeling and action. Watson tells us this with entire clarity. He is a rare artist, unprecedented, tremendous.
The staging is fine in every respect, as I noted at its first showing in 2011, the cast admirable. I record with greatest pleasure that in May, Sky Arts will transmit a performance: Watson’s prodigious achievement is preserved.