By Steve Sucato
The adage “good things come to those who wait,” certainly applies to Pittsburgh-based dancer, choreographer, and entrepreneur Maria Caruso and her career-defining, one-woman dance theater production Metamorphosis. Four decades in the making, Caruso brought her lifetime of experiences to the hourlong work that became the big break every artist dreams of. A global tour and a bevy of accolades ensued culminating this past summer in a limited run at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End.
Caruso’s final sold-out performance on July 4th at the Lyric now comes to Broadway On Demand’s streaming service beginning today, January 20.
Debuted at Israel’s Karmiel Dance Festival in 2018, I reviewed its U.S. premiere in Pittsburgh in 2020. And although the production has evolved since then, its initial power to utterly captivate audiences has only been enriched.
That power is in full force in the Broadway On Demand release which opens on a close-up of Caruso lying on the stage floor bathed in spotlight, seemingly asleep under a tan sheet. Stirring a few times, Caruso awoke to begin what felt like, a ritualistic running of her hands and arms along her face and leotard clad body as if renewing her spirit.
Set to a mesmerizing soundtrack by Nils Frahm, Kevin Keller, and Garth Stevenson, Caruso’s place under the sheet is her safe place she would repeatedly return to throughout the work from the devastatingly painful emotions that resurfaced in her when she donned a series of differently colored dresses hung about the stage.
Serving as metaphors for times of turmoil, tragedy and joy in her life, the dresses gave no outward indication of their trigger in Caruso’s emotional life, but when put on, the effect they each had on Caruso was immediate and overpowering.
So it was when Caruso pulled on her first dress, a semi-transparent black dress, over her yellow leotard. Caruso instantly began convulsing and hysterically scratching at the skin on her legs and arms as if having suddenly broken out in horrifying rash. That was then followed by her marching determinedly about the stage in a fit of rage, kicking up her legs and launching balled up fist after fist into the space around her that landed on nothing but the building of more anger and frustration before letting out a tortured scream and collapsing to the stage floor. After a short time, Caruso then arose looking frightened and bewildered from the experience to strip off the black dress and pile it at the front of the stage and cover herself in the safety and contentment of her tan sheet.
It is the 42-year-old veteran performers mastery of expression from a simple nose sniff or furrow of a brow, to spot on erupting in an instant with any emotion in humanity’s playbook, that really resonates in Metamorphosis. It is Caruso’s brutally honest and bravura acting skills that raise her performance to genius level in the work and what connects audiences so deeply with it.
Caruso’s next wardrobe demon came in the form of a green dress. Slipped on like the black one before, Caruso danced back and forth across the stage in patterns of angular movement. And like a ticking time bomb, tension built as to when she would explode with emotion from what the dress represented. It didn’t take long for that to happen as Caruso began wheezing and grasping at her throat as if suffocating. Panicked runs across the stage followed with her acting like a caged animal. And in the work’s most disturbing and memorable scene, tears began streaming down her face that led to uncontrollable crying and a torrent of sorrowful wails that was profound heartache personified.
After another visit to her safe place, Caruso’s personal metamorphosis from an emotionally damaged and broken spirit to one who finds joy in her life, began with her next dress. Wearing red (or perhaps pink), Caruso moved through hip-gyrating and undulating dance choreography a la harem girl. She cast come hither smiles and pointed out into the audience as if selecting someone to join her. The scene had Caruso beaming with self-empowerment.
That mood then turned to one of reflection before slipping on her final dress, a green and purple blend that instantly filled Caruso with joy and elation and appeared to complete her metamorphosis.
The work ended with Caruso gathering in her arms her beloved safe place and turning her back on the pile of discarded dresses and along with them, those chapters in her life that brought her such pain.
At $3.99 US for a 48-hour rental, the price is right for repeated viewing Metamorphosis to catch every nuance in Caruso’s breathtaking performance. A sequel is planned that is said to reveal some of the stories that inspired Metamorphosis. Be on the lookout for that in future.
Maria Caruso’s Metamorphosis is available now on Broadway On Demand’s streaming platform at https://www.broadwayondemand.com/rentals/f4f45ebd-84e1-4428-9847-4aba5b1e89ec
PRESENTER: Broadway On Demand
CAST: Maria Angelica Caruso
DIRECTOR: Matthew Titterton, Maria Angelica Caruso
PRODUCER: Aria Entertainment Ltd., Advision TV, and M-Train Productions
More at: http://www.metamorphosismac.com