Akram Khan’s expressionist ballet lands on the Sadler’s Wells for a strictly run until the end of the week. Guillermo Nazara reviews this return production by the English National Ballet, where beauty and horror are the inseparable sides of the same creation.
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Mary Shelley’s haunting warning about the excesses of human ambition may have taken an unexpected twist this last week – as the ENB (short for English National Ballet) has restored one of its edgiest, most voiced productions of its last seasons. Partially inspired by their fellow-British Gothic icon, this dystopian narrative created by Akram Khan returns to the Sadler’s Wells after a first incursion to the United States and a global tour around cinema screens, offering a new look on the classic tale of a man-made man (terrible pun intended) and the uncontrollable consequences that such sort of boldness can (and will) bring about.
The parallels between piece and plot are astounding in this case. Just as it was courageous of Victor Frankenstein to fashion a living creature out of inert matter, it’s been much as reckless of Khan to throw an Orwellian stone to the world of classical dance. The differences between both outcomes are, nonetheless, equally disproportionate. As the 19th-century doctor can only flee in shame from his failed attempt , Khan proves that to be an artist (and to succeed as such) you must be daring and leave your sensitivity to the drawing board – putting it apart when you’re told what you’re trying will not work.
With both director and choreographer titles in his pocket, Khan’s remake of Georg Büchner’s expressionist classic Woyzeck (Shelley’s genre-defining novel also nurturing the material), the production is an masterful tableau of visual storytelling – providing the viewer with an excellent, exciting display of raw emotions and events that, though leaving some room for interpretation (as most probably every ballet does), makes a clear statement of what’s being told. Featuring set and costume designs by Tim Yip, the immersiveness achieved through what’s but a proscenium show is truly stunning, able to transport us to a journey of visceral fascination where the fiercest side of human nature is portrayed through the delicate exquisiteness of artistic beauty – all coming to place thanks to the perfect unity among every one of its creative elements.
Also relying on an original score penned by composer and sound designer Vincenzo Lamagna, its minimalistic film-noire vibe is one of its many admirable traits – working as a driving force that accentuates both action and sentiment. Conducted with superb articulation by Daniel Parkinson, the instrumentation fairly deserves one of the highest mentions, not only for the variety that’s given to the piece (using different sections of the orchestra every time a same motif is repeated), but for how incredibly unexpected such choices are – none of which ever ceasing to be a triumph at any point.
With a rotating lead cast, it’s difficult to offer a generalized review on their renditions. What can be assured, anyway, is the brilliance of the principal dancers that tread the boards last Friday. Starring Aitor Arrieta in the title role, his ardent commitment (mixed with a vividly executed technique) make of him a shining beacon of passion and spinning furor. On the other hand, Emily Suzuki also stands out as the tragic heroine and the Creature’s love interest – due to the elegant fragility of her secure though enticing performance.
Very rarely can a work of art both strike you and comfort you on the same level and to such degree. Creature has the strength to entertain, move and inspire thanks to its rare unexpected gift: being different at the right time to be different. I may end my review by going back to the author that opened it, and quote that “nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” This one, however, was most pleasurable.
Creature plays at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 1 April. Tickets are available on the following link.