Akram Khan's ''Creature'' Film Review

Thrilling and all-consuming, the combination of cinema and ballet proves a mesmerizing fusion of two very different mediums. 

Sensual and haunting, Creature is ballet in the extreme. Filmed by Oscar-winning film director, Asif Kapadia (Amy, Senna), and produced and choreographed by the celebrated ballet dancer and choreographer, Akram Khan, it has a distinctly cinematic feel and makes for powerful and, at times, unsettling viewing.  

First performed in 2021 at Sadlers Wells by the English National Ballet (ENB) – who also commissioned the work – it is Khan’s third collaboration with the company. Filmed in only two weeks it is set in a dystopian, apocalyptic interior that could be an arctic research station where we are introduced to a “human creature” undergoing forensic observation and experimentation to help advance humanity’s space race.

Thrilling and all-consuming, the combination of cinema and ballet proves a mesmerizing fusion of two very different mediums.  Serendipitous too, that Kapadia and Khan, who have known one another for twenty years, managed to collaborate in this way.  Khan’s previous partnerships include French actress Juliette Binoche, dancer Sylvie Guillem and Kylie Minogue.  Finding common ground in their South Asian British backgrounds, (Indian and Bangladeshi) both creatives share an interest in their ethnic mythological history and storytelling.

Henry IV

Trailer for Akram Khan’s Creature 

An intense closeup of Creature’s slightly pulsating hunched back – a fleshy vision viewers may mistake for the surface of the moon – sets the tone.  The Creature’s body remains taught; stationary and tense one minute, writhing and whirling the next as he punches and pushes the air with a sense of urgency and desperation.  We follow our protagonist as he falls in love, fights against his captors, and tries to make sense of his surroundings.  The eerie atmosphere is laden with innuendo complemented by Vincenzo Lamagna’s brilliantly atmospheric slightly tortuous, scratchy, monotone musical accompaniment.  Is this in fact Armageddon or a taste of the future? Menacing pre-recorded messages play on a loop. One from President Nixon celebrating the moon landing in 1969 is poignant in its repetition, “This has to be the proudest day of our lives. Because of what you have done the heavens have become a part of man’s world.”

From the tips of his fingers to his toes,  Jeffrey Cirio gives a soul-shattering performance of emotional aptitude as the trapped, manipulated human experiment; the perfect translator for Khan’s vigorous and masterful choreography.    Assisted by Kapadia’s observant camerawork we get to see facial expressions, beads of sweat, and silent screams close up.  Erina Takahashi as Marie and Stina Quagebeur as the psychopath doctor also give noteworthy performances.   The ballet also includes some staggering ensemble pieces.  Dancers, mostly dressed in drab, nondescript prison-inspired outfits, push and pull together in a series of awe-inspiring synchronized movements.  

Inspired by George Büchner’s, unfinished nineteenth-century play, “Woyzeck” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” it also touches on some pressing issues; man’s urge to dominate outer space, identity and belonging, exploitation of nature, and climate change for example.

Incorporated into Khan’s signature of contemporary dance is the classical Indian dance form known as “Kathak” (using stylized gestures dating back to the nomadic bards of ancient Northern India) as well as more traditional dance steps.  “Dance is the most truthful and direct way of saying things because it is the most primal. You share something without saying it in words and there is nothing more profound than that” Khan has said.

Cinematic intensity meets the beauty of ballet here in a physical and visual exploration of man’s fragility and ambition.

Join our community newsletter for the latest content and offers