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BWW Review: AKRAM KHAN'S CREATURE, Sadler's Wells


English National Ballet return to the venue with a world premiere

BWW Review: AKRAM KHAN'S CREATURE, Sadler's Wells BWW Review: AKRAM KHAN'S CREATURE, Sadler's Wells Akram Khan's third work for English National Ballet finally debuted after numerous COVID-related false starts to a vocal Sadler's Wells audience this week.

Previous pieces Dust and Giselle sit comfortably in ENB's repertoire, accessible to both balletomanes and general dance fans. Now follows Creature, an apocalyptic tale loosely based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Whilst it benefits from compelling, feverishly danced contributions from the full cast, the clarity in the dramaturgy is lacking. The storytelling may need tightening up for future edits but the thumping rhythms of Vincenzo Lamagna's original sound design and music and Khan's hypnotic choreography will keep you engaged, amongst your bewilderment.

Tim Yip's set transports us to an Arctic research station, where the "Creature" (Jeffrey Cirio) is part of a new experimental programme and undergoes a series of traumatising trials at the hands of an array of authoritative figures. He is cared for by his keeper, Marie (Erina Takahashi), in the lead-up to the mission for which he has been tested so relentlessly. That's the story, but don't be clever and try and do this one without programme notes - you'll be the one hunched over your booklet in the interval.

Cirio is nothing short of mesmeric in the title role, his exertion clear and visible through every sinew of his body; the contortions, the convulsions are so tangible it's exhausting just to watch. He has said post-performance that he "left his heart on the stage" and I don't think the audience would argue with that. It's already hard to imagine a better, more compelling interpretation.

Erina Takahashi's Marie is a sincere partner to Cirio's Creature. It's a joyless role save for one more playful pas de deux that sees Creature push her around the stage in one of her cleaning buckets. For the most part her face is etched with an earnest expression.

It's a shame she is not given more opportunity to dance, instead of brush, mop and observe. She sweeps, waif-like, beautifully across the stage when given the opportunity, and shows due compassion for Creature's plight but, as with many of the supporting characters, Marie needs more to do.

Of the remaining cast who come and go, kudos goes to Fabian Reimair, whose crystal clear characterisation and command of the stage leaves you in no doubt of his authoritarian role. A small corps de ballet cover the rest of the supporting roles. Dressed in futuristic space suits, they are the backbone of Khan's Creature, sweeping the action along with bold, physically demanding motifs, jumps, trills, and then switching to intricate hands and arm-ography. Their energy and cohesion to Lamagna's music is what will sit longest in the memory, with especially fresh and punchy displays from Carolyne Galvao and Francesca Velicu.

The action is framed by an acute sense of claustrophobia that hangs over Creature. Tim Yip's set encases the cast in a prison of wooden slats. Michael Hull's lighting suggests a contrasting world outside these walls and the repeated choreography of the dancers pointing upwards hint at a desire to escape.

We've waited a long time for this particular Creature, and it will undoubtedly be more divisive than Khan's box office hits of the past. Here he has essentially created a more abstract, futuristic version of his Giselle. The narrative may lose you along the way, but the sense of drama and visual spectacle still make it an enticing proposition.

Creature runs at Sadler's Wells until 2 October.

Image: Ambra Vernuccio

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