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IMPRESSIONS: Stacy Grossfield's "metamorphosis 2" at The Chocolate Factory Theater

IMPRESSIONS: Stacy Grossfield's "metamorphosis 2" at The Chocolate Factory Theater
Catherine Tharin

By Catherine Tharin
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Published on April 12, 2024
Nola Sporn Smith (front) & Tuva H. (back). Photo: Maria Baranova

Stacy Grossfield presents metamorphosis 2

Dates: March 20 - 30, 2024

Venue: The Chocolate Factory Theater

Choreographer: Stacy Grossfield

Performers and collaborators: Alexandra Albrecht, Tuva H. and Nola Sporn Smith with Hannah Franzen, Nishka Pierson and Dianna Warren

Lighting designer: Madeline Best

Sound designer: Ryan Gamblin

Video designer: Gil Sperling

Special effects: J & M Special Effects

Special effects and prop master: Hilary Brown-Istrefi

Ballet costumer: Benefis

When the excellent Nola Sporn Smith takes microphone in hand, she looks slyly at the audience, and speaks the words of Candace Owens, the Black and beautiful spokeswoman for the far-right. “I go for the jugular — a lot,” she says. In metamorphosis 2, choreographer Stacy Grossfield also grasps the viewer by the throat, and for 60 absorbing minutes at the cavernous The Chocolate Factory Theater she doesn’t let go.

Addressing issues that affect the lives of contemporary women, Grossfield examines the far-right, wellness culture, millennials, boomers, feminism, Blackness, whiteness, birthing, and motherhood. Grossfield interrogates each topic with equilibrium. The inauthentic rhetoric of the first half of the program contrasts with ‘the real’ experience of childbirth in the second, positing ideas open to interpretation .

Full-bodied nude woman playing with her dirty-blonde hair extensions. Blood is splattered on the mirror behind her.
Tuva H. in Stacy Grossfield's metamorphosis 2. Photo by Maria Baranova

Dressed in a pert, pink workout outfit, Smith adopts the persona of the "tradwife", a construct of antifeminist and primarily white Christian conservatives that glorifies the stay-at-home mom. Tradwives, seen on social media, appear flawless. So, too, is the fit and unflappable Smith/Owens character who states, “white lives matter”. Married to the son of a British Lord, Owens has reached the pinnacle of tradwife-dom.

“I speak out against feminism because it’s not feminism (but) a cultural war on men.” Smith says this line and others excerpted  from Owens’ Liberty University Convocation speech in 2018. The fanatical speech espouses conspiracy theories, whose absurdity Grossfield mines. With comedic timing, Smith punctuates her speech with a flip of her hair-extension ponytail (a style popularized in a viral TikTok post), a drop to the floor in a V, and jumps with legs spread wide.

Three ballerinas of different ages: child, mid-20s and veteran are slumped on the floor with their white tulle skirts piled around them.
 (L to R) Nishka Pierson,  Dianna Warren, and Hannah Franzen. Photo by Maria Baranova

Soldiering on, Smith performs an aerobic ballet solo to classical music. The ballerina, an idealized woman, is traditionally cosseted, corseted, and white. Three ballerinas appear costumed in dirndls, a nod to National Socialism implying that Owens’ conservative supporters are white supremacists.  Suggesting a lineage of romanticized white motherhood, the dancers range from child ballerina to working ballerina to veteran ballerina. Dancing to Gounod’s Faust they intertwine arms and circle. Faust made a pact with the devil, as has Owens, suggests Grossfield.

In a non sequitur, Alexandra Albrecht, costumed as a gray-wigged boomer, attaches herself to Smith’s millennial back. Smith, sobbing in frustration, tries forcibly to remove her by vigorously somersaulting and whipping her around, but to no avail. Meanwhile, in a distant corner, a naked, full-bodied Tuva H. settles cross-legged and stares into a large, convex mirror. Unhurriedly, she applies makeup, and placidly plays with her long, dirty-blonde extensions. A hint of things to come, Tuva H. vomits, flings blood onto the mirror, and slumps into a fetal position.


A close up of a brown haired woman in pink workout clothes with tongue sticking out to the side of her mouth. A gray-wigged woman in green-gray clothes is sprawled on the pink clothed woman's back.
Nola Sporn Smith (foreground) with Alexandra Albrecht. Photo by Maria Baranova

The audience is shepherded briefly into a cold, nearly pitch-black room where a 3-foot-square robot-like hologram box advances toward the standing crowd. A hologram fan (a new technology) projects Owens’ talking face on the hologram's four sides. In the dim light, we notice the barely visible Smith seated in a lotus position with eyes closed. Perhaps, Smith is meditating on this turbulent and confused world, or is attempting to block what we’ve just experienced.

A 3' foot box shaped robot screening images of a talking woman. A pink outfitted woman sits cross-legged in front of the robot with eyes closed.
Nola Sporn Smith and hologram. Photo by Maria Baranova

The lengthy, second-half finale conveys the brutality of labor and birth. Grossfield, mother of two, says that giving birth is the deepest, most authentic experience of a woman’s life. The nearly naked Albrecht, in labor with her back to us, audibly moans. For relief, she hangs from a ballet barre and sips from her bottle of Gerolsteiner mineral water. Tuva H. is also in labor, and her water breaks forming a milky puddle. Blood is smeared across her face and body. Holding a carving knife, she groans, screams and becomes increasingly feral. In her distress she crawls up a brick wall and hangs upside down. The ballerinas return and sink to the floor deflated, smiles plastered on their faces. Eventually, the stage quiets. Smith silently mouths incomprehensible, final words into her microphone leaving us in suspense. metamorphosis 2 packs a wallop of a punch, and for this go round, has said a lot.

Brown-haired woman with back to the audience, wearing a gray shirt over her naked body kneels in front of a ballet barre.
 Alexandra Albrecht (foreground) and Tuva H. (background). Photo by Maria Baranova

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