Australian Dance Reviews

English National Ballet in Akram Khan’s ‘Creature’: Giving us much to ponder

English National Ballet's Jeffrey Cirio and Erina Takahashi in 'Creature' by Akram Khan. Photo by Laurent Liotardo.
English National Ballet's Jeffrey Cirio and Erina Takahashi in 'Creature' by Akram Khan. Photo by Laurent Liotardo.

Streamed online.
April 2023.

Akram Khan’s Creature for the English National Ballet is a most intriguing, desolate work that is perhaps a bit disappointing.

There is terrific dancing technically (and a dazzling, magnificent performance by Jeffrey Cirio as the Creature). The choreography ranges from precise and chilling to heartbroken and tender, and the production values are highly accomplished with atmosphere of forbidding aloofness. Yet, the work for this reviewer, while strong and powerful, leaves one unsatisfied.

Yes, there are influences of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley’s mixed in with Woyzeck by Georg Buchner. Creature also raises the issues of Earth’s future, the effects of climate change and the space race. It is an allegory about an oppressed Creature, who craves love and acceptance yet is rejected by the community he attempts to join.   

Khan’s choreography shows his stylistic influences blended from contemporary dance and Kathak but also incorporates classical ballet steps such as when we see the pack of soldiers/silent guard observers who pas de chat as threatening ensemble in compact formation, or tramp with outstretched legs that curve upward at the ankle precisely coordinated and somewhat robotically; they reach and weave with intimidating power and sometimes wheeling turns, difficult lifts; angular elbows and runs are also included. Bouncing on demi pointe, small jumps and undulating, rippling arms are included as well.

Jeffrey Cirio as Creature gives an extraordinary stellar portrayal, sinuously spiralling, twisting, in a rich, lustrous, yet tormented performance, delineating a man forced to endure unnecessary agony.

The film opens in an icy, forbidding landscape and is set in designer’s Tim Yip’s deteriorating Arctic bunker which starts falling apart. Michael Hulls’ gloomy, moody lighting is most unsettling and effective. Vincenzo Lamagna’s score has odd qualities – it is pared down yet persistent and includes a reworking of Ravel’s Bolero.

In Creature, we see the crushing and disintegration of the eponymous character, where, pressed into a research programme, he is subjected to enforced continual mental and physical ‘experiments’ in the name of science before a contemplated space expedition. The Creature is forced to endure extreme temperatures and solitary confinement while progressively everything is taken away – his sanity, his health, his dignity and eventually Marie the woman he falls in love with.

Poor cowed, sympathetic, timorous Marie (Erina Takahashi), one of Creature’s browbeaten ‘keepers,’ spends a lot of time mopping the floor. They do, however, have some tentative tender moments together, but Marie and Andres (Victor Prigent), another keeper who is busy cleaning the walls, eventually reject Creature. A necklace (a Christian rosary?) is a symbol of security and influence, transferred between disparate characters.

The army of soldiers wear ballet slippers and white boiler suits, and there is an ominous black helmet. (Creating solitary confinement? Some small protection from the icy Arctic conditions?)

At one point, the lights flicker, and Marie and other characters point upwards. Why? Are the various military leaving polluted Earth in the planned rocket launch? (No gear for a space flight is discernible.)

Creature is forced to endure yet more ‘experiments’ by the expressionless Captain (Ken Saruhashi) and the Doctor (Stina Quagebeur). Are there slight possible hints of the nightmare scene from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Swan Lake? Creature witnesses Marie’s rape and how she attempts to tidy and clean herself after. He is thrust out into the cold and persecuted by the Major when he returns. When Marie declines the Major’s insistence to join him and the rest of the team, he kills her. They depart, leaving Creature and Marie’s corpse behind.

The bleak and unsettling Creature gives us much to ponder.

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

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