In his third collaboration with English National Ballet, Akram Khan has created a powerful ballet around the central character of Creature. It’s a transcendent role that takes everything a dancer can give, both physically and mentally.
Performing as Creature is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for male dancers, and an unmissable opportunity for audiences to see a fusion of dance styles, powerful acting, and incredible strength and stamina. But what makes the role of the Creature so special?
A physical rollercoaster
Performing in Creature can feel like a fast-paced marathon: the character is rarely off stage, in constant movement almost the entire time, shifting body shapes in a matter of seconds. As a de-humanized being, Creature’s athletic movement morphs from animalistic to robotic, with glimpses of humanity depicted through fluid spins and lifts.
The opening solo has it all: an electric fusion of ballet technique with contemporary and Kathak steps. It’s a true showcase of Akram Khan’s famous choreographic style. Check it out below:
“I had to dig deep in order to find myself in this character”, reveals Jeffrey Cirio in an interview with Pointe Magazine, the same publication that includes his Creature amongst the standout performances of 2022. Commenting on Jeffrey’s performance, they write: “How does he move like that? With his varied background in classical ballet, hip-hop freestyling and contemporary improvisation, there seems to be no limit to his movement vocabulary.”
Cirio’s memorable performance of Creature also saw him win Outstanding Male Classical Performance at the Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards last year.
An apocalyptical plot
Set in a remote dilapidated research centre in the High Arctic, Creature undergoes extremes of cold and isolation, all part of a military experiment for mankind’s colonisation of frontiers on Earth and beyond. Inspired by Georg Büchner Woyzeck, with shades of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Creature is a tale of exploitation and abandonment that also explores issues of climate change, colonisation, and the impact of technology on planet earth. Not only is Creature a physically demanding role, but this character also has something important to say about the world we live in.
“It’s a human being that has become a creature – the animal within us,” says Akram Khan about the role of Creature. “He has been turned into a creature by society’s behaviour towards him. He represents, in a sense, how society is breaking down that very thin line between being civilized and not being civilized.”
Cirio agrees that the inspiration behind Creature helped him build this role: “Creature represents the societal issues that we are going through, so when we came back to the piece after the pandemic, we all had this new perspective that helped us to push and be more realistic onstage.”
Principal Aitor Arrieta, who also performs the role of Creature on stage, highlights how the production mirrors our contemporary world: “Kindness and niceness are very often taken as weakness. You can see Creature being pure in his intentions but being treated horribly and abandoned by everyone.”
Want to dig deeper into the story of Creature? Watch this video below:
Acting like nobody’s watching
Jeffrey Cirio has said that he left his heart on the stage post-performance – which comes as no surprise. Beyond its fierce movement, the role of Creature calls for magnificent acting skills to embody the loneliness, vulnerability, and despair. This makes Creature an incredibly emotional character to perform which offers dancers the opportunity to develop their stage presence and acting.
Behind the visceral, gut-punching experience of performing this role, there is a lot of work and research to build up this character. Jeffrey says: “Akram and I prepared the role of Creature by doing several weeks of research. We spoke about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the character of Woyzeck. We also looked at how animals move to develop the way that Creature would walk and talk, and how he would act.” For Aitor, “it’s challenging to combine the difficult movements with the emotions that this role demands. You are a different person after the performance.”
Stage vs screen
Following its premiere at Sadler’s Wells in 2021, Creature has been imagined for the screen, thanks to a collaboration with Academy Award-winning director Asif Kapadia. Performing in front of a camera is very different to the stage, which has presented an additional challenge to Jeffrey Cirio, who also performed the leading role in the film.
“When you are filming, it takes multiple takes to get a certain scene, so you need to be constantly in the character even if it takes longer than expected,” says Jeffrey as he reflects on the difference between stage and film. “Working for the camera is different from performing on stage for live audiences, because with multiple takes you have multiple tries, and you don’t get that chance on a stage show.”
Both require a solid commitment to the role at all times – on stage, as it’s a live performance; in film, as you never know which take the director will choose.
Working with Asif Kapadia – best known for his documentaries Amy and Senna – was also a remarkable experience for the dancers. Jeffrey tells us: “Working with Asif was very inspiring. He is very dedicated to his craft, just like Akram Khan. Through this film, he has a lot to give to the film industry by combining different art forms.”
Although a newcomer to ballet, Kapadia quickly realised the power of this character and how to capture Jeffrey’s thrilling performance as Creature. “You can expect to see beautiful cinematography and a way of showing dance in a 360-degree, which rarely happens on stage,” adds Jeffrey.
Creature is a fascinating cinematic experience, bringing together two different creative disciplines and making something at once familiar and brand new. It’s raw, intense and experimental, with breathtaking danceThe Upcoming ★★★★★
“When a body moves, it’s the most revealing thing.” This famous quote by Mikhail Baryshnikov feels particularly true when we think about the role of Creature. The character is amongst the artform’s most challenging roles for a male dancer and a performance that should not be missed!