Creature by Akram Khan at Sadler’s Wells
What are the limits of human beings in terms of technological discoveries and their feelings? Creature by Akram Khan is a compelling work that explores the boundaries of nature and our occupation of the planet, and yet goes further: a moving reflection on the very fabric of society.
Inside the Arctic research station in an undefined era (the uniforms are modern, whereas the structure appears rudimentarily made), the Creature (Jeffrey Cirio) is under observation for his extraordinary physical endurance – an attribute that could prove useful if weaponised. While the examinations continue, the Major (Fabian Reimair) announces the happy next steps of the mission. He also tries to seduce Marie (Erina Takahashi), a keeper who is love with the Creature. As the demands of the project advance, the people involved become disposable.
Despite its indeterminate setting, the story pulls at the heartstrings in a visually striking way. The first act begins with a lonely figure and takes some time to grow; halfway through, an insistent crescendo builds. The station staff enter the stage with movements resembling both robots and primates (the hammering “are you an ape?” questions the evolution/regression of the species) – both connected with and distanced from the Creature. Amid uniformity, oddity is more noticeable: in the sporadic words coming out of the speakers, the repeated “patterns” bring the audience’s attention to the group’s complex and selective behaviours. The performance is composed of different yet fluidly linked numbers, during which the carefree relationship between Cirio and Takahashi’s characters blossoms, bringing relief from the suffocating atmosphere of the research base. The second act portrays the natural development of the situation and the diverging paths that result: scientific progress of the mission and the company collision.
The music by Vincenzo Lamagna, orchestrated by James Keane, is an inseparable companion to the dramatic choreography by Khan. Fractured, heavy on electronic beats, featuring guitar riffs and more elegiac streaks alongside reiterated, rugged recorded voices, it complements and upholds the dance element.
The stage design carries subtle symbolism, with few props (among them a bucket of water used to purify and ground the sequences) and a sacred natural light that inundates the space only at the end. Likewise, despite the oppressive environment, the lighting design by Michael Hulls conjures expanded contrasts of shadow and warm illumination.
Akram Khan’s signature choreographic eloquence, sleekly executed by the English National Ballet, together with Ruth Little’s dramaturgy and the emphatic soundscape, deliver a poignant performance.
Creature by Akram Khan is at Sadler’s Wells from 23rd March until 1st April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Akram Khan and Ruth Little discuss the themes of the show here: