The English National Ballet’s Creature
Is anyone able to understand Creature, Akram Khan’s new ballet for the English National Ballet? It didn’t just confuse me, I was the one who was confused. My guest, who was sitting next to me in the bus, said to me that she knew she had been raped. The woman behind her, a stranger, lean forward and adds, “And that’s all they know.” What were they doing? What was the story?
Although choreography does not have to be clear, and we could all leave our imaginations and minds at home if it did, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. This was a scene that involved a humanoid man, a timid loving lady – perhaps his caregiver – and several soldiers. The creature was amicably danced with one of the soldiers, but he eventually stopped responding to his orders and began giving them instead. A second soldier raped and later killed the woman. A necklace and an encompassing helmet were passed back and forth.
A cast list was included in the press materials that I received prior to the performance. I did not see it either in the programme or as a free handout. I was able to find information at home that listed the roles and the names of the dancers who were performing them. However, if I had that list with me at the theatre, it would not have been able to help me identify who was who. It was easy to match the Creature with the shy Marie to the energetic Jeffrey Cirio or the beautiful Erina Takahashi. The list, which the audience didn’t see, also listed a Doctor, Captain, Major, and someone called Andres. Which one of these characters was onstage?
We heard Nixon congratulate the astronauts shortly after the historic landing on the Moon. Although the recording was probably used for some purpose, I didn’t realize its significance. It was definitely more interesting than Vincenzo Lamagna’s music, which combined military brass with space-age electronic sounds and bits from Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. It was immediately and continually deafening. I tried unsuccessfully to block it out.
How about the dancing? Every performer was superb, precise, and powerful. I wondered if Takahashi ever resented having to sweep floors and scrub tables with her training and talent.
After the fact, I learned that Khan was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck, and that the ballet is about global warming and “exploitation at the last human frontiers.” This phrase is from Ruth Little, Khan’s dramaturg. The programme essay also includes quotes from Buchner and Elon Musk. This may not be as informative for audiences than a brief overview of Shelley’s original characters. Are you convinced that Frankenstein is the monster and not the doctor who created it?
It was surprising that Khan kept his thoughts close to his chest, and only shared his intentions with his collaborators. He certainly didn’t clarify his intentions onstage. Tamara Rojo, a sensitive and canny director, failed to follow the development of the ballet more objectively than Khan. She might have intervened for the benefit of the public.
Several people said they wished they could have left at the end, despite being left to their own devices. Khan and the company are admirable and I respect them. However, it was disappointing to be there and to feel like an observer.