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‘Creature’ – Beauty and horror in Akram Khan’s latest English Ballet collaboration…

‘Creature’ – Beauty and horror in Akram Khan’s latest English Ballet collaboration…

Kathak-dancer turned creator continues to thrill and ask powerful questions as show comes to a close before short confirmed US tour…

AKRAM KHAN is one of the best-known dance choreographers working in Britain today and his latest performed work is worth catching just as a beautiful spectacle.

Creature’ is his third production in collaboration with the English National Ballet (after ‘Dust’ and ‘Giselle’) and this show, which has a 10-day run and ends today, is around two hours in total length (with a 20-minute interval), covers a lot of ground.

The creature in question is a man whom a military brigade will observe, examine and test in a dilapidated former arctic research centre, says the explanatory show synopsis.

A lot happens to our poor creature – he is tormented, abused and cast aside in a sense and the story is one of “unearthly exploitation” and the insinuation is that a military-industrial complex is pushing the frontiers between knowledge and sanity, science and possibility.

Doctor (*Stina Quagebeur) and Creature (Jeffrey Cirio) in ‘Creature‘ ©Laurent Liotardo

It doesn’t really care about his welfare and the work is inspired by Georg Büchner’s expressionist classic ‘Woyzeck’, with shadows of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, continues the synopsis.

There’s a brisk opening and intonations of an American general (Andy Serkis) heralding the advent of space exploration as one in which the human race is pursuing for peace and tranquillity – but in this, it is anything but, as the action unfolds.

It all has a very cold, ethereal beauty, and the choreography is enchanting and engaging throughout. Much of the first half is our creature being seized upon by the powers that be and their underlings (simply described as ‘Army’) doing their bidding.

Creature (Cirio) and Major (Fabian Reimair) ©Laurent Liotardo

You have a distinct sense of breakdown, abandonment and isolation. Doctor (*Sarah Kundi) puts Creature (Aitor Arrieta) through his paces – but he it is just that – an object of observation and experimentation and little more.

The first half very much sets the scene and the rough contours of each character – but it’s the second half when the production moves into a bolder and more striking segment – especially as Marie (Emily Suzuki), the cleaner, so peripheral and in the background mostly, until the last quarter, moves centre stage but at the behest of one of the men of power. This short segment is powerful as just two dancers occupy the stage.

There are clear lines of hierarchy in this little enclave – as with all military structures – people know where they stand.

Of course, humans being humans too, the power dynamic plays out with Major (James Streeter) abusing Marie, the cleaner, and her and creature appear to bond over their appalling and horrific treatment.

Major (Reimar) and Marie (cleaner – Erina Takahashi) ©Laurent Liotardo

Throughout Khan’s essential humanity is strongly evident – there are moments of beauty, of kinship, poise and comradeship, perhaps even love, but such are the structures that these are fleeting, disapproved and abandoned.

What is in its place, and much larger than the power of any individual, is the structure and the hold this has over individuals – they are not free and everybody is oppressed in some way, though the higher you go, the more freedom there is and those in power will abuse and behave as they wish, with little to no sanction.

Despite’s it’s rather grim setting, eerie set, abusive military overtones and somewhat painful storyline, there is beauty in the choreography and the dancing and the haunting music with the English National Ballet Philharmonic being conducted by Gavin Sutherland and Gary Cornelius. The visual and costume design by Oscar-winner Tim Yip (‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’) adds another striking dimension to the production.

Some may find the dramatic focus dissipated by the range of issues within, but part of its power for this critic is the way that it deals with so much and in a way that is accessible and engaging.

And very simply, this is a gorgeous production – the choreography, the dancing, the set and sound design – everything is of a high order, but whether you like the story is, in an aesthetic sense, neither here nor there… and perhaps these reflections are somewhat tilted towards the whole experience of simply being back in a theatre and experiencing live performance dance with an audience! (Sailesh Ram)

ACV rating: **** (out of five)

Pictures: Courtesy of English National Ballet

*Names of dancers performing on Thursday, September 30 – different performances have different dancers

Creature (September 23-October 2)

Two shows left at Sadler’s Wells today (Saturday):
2.30pm & 7.30pm (tickets are still available)
Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN
More info/tickets:

On tour: Harris Theater, Chicago February 24-26

Creature is a Co-Production between English National Ballet and Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (OBV). Co-producers; Sadler’s Wells, London. Production Partner: The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture