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English National Ballet: Akram Khan’s Creature


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After a 2 year delay the long-awaited première of Creature, Akram Khan’s new production dances tonight at Sadlers Wells. I, for one, am very excited.

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I don’t know what to say and shouldn’t say much as I left at the interval. 
It’s very dramatic and gets the point of the outsider driven out by the social order really well and some already touching scenes between the Creature and Marie just about forming a bond in this first Act. 
It was all very intensely and amazingly danced as far as I saw it. Everybody is very believable particularly Cirio and Takahashi in the main roles. 
However it was VERY LOUD! 
I know this contributes to the drama and atmosphere of the piece but it really was a bit unrelenting....probably what the composer intended!! 
During the interval I got the feeling it was only going to be more of the same so sadly and unusually for me ...I did a runner as couldn’t face another hour of this relentless piece which probably means it’s going to be a huge success! 
Maybe I will go on another occasion and see the second half but I wonder with a ballet of this degree of intensity if it’s a bit like the Rite of Spring and could be condensed to perhaps a long one Act ballet? I probably couldn’t take two hours of the Rite of Spring either! 
Will be interesting to read other reviews. 


 

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IMG_5328.thumb.jpg.f75cad85790c5e54ff081fd97b4951aa.jpg

 

Here's the final curtain call. I know what LinMM means, it is very loud, and remains so in the second half! However, though I'll let others better qualified do more detailed reviews, I do have to say I found it stunning. Erina Takahashi, and especially Jeffrey Cirio as the Creature, both give stellar performances that sometimes veer more towards dance theatre than dance but are none the worse for that. Some of the most interesting actual dancing is done by the corps in their role as the 'Army', moving in unison in interesting, subtle, and sometimes quite weird ways as in the two previous Khan ENB pieces (there's one bit that in retrospect has more than a touch of the Ministry of Silly Walks about it!). The tension builds nicely and the story to me was told effectively (though it helps to read the synopsis in the programme which unfortunately isn't on the digital cast sheet). The heartbreaking ending has a definite hint of Manon about it. 

 

In summary, some of you will definitely like it, some will definitely not like it! I liked it

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  • alison changed the title to English National Ballet: Akram Khan’s Creature

I'm afraid I also left at the interval. I like loud, but I just found it all very uninvolving. Part of the problem was that as Chris G says there was no synopsis on the digital cast sheet, and I found that I had very little idea as to what was actually happening - I'd read about the setting and themes etc in advance but clearly that wasn't enough (or at least not enough for me...). I have loved most of Akram Khan's work to date but in this (or at least in the first half) it felt to me as if he was mainly just repeating himself but to less effect than usual. I also found the score/soundscape pretty repetitive and undramatic and the sets and costumes dull (as evidenced, I think, by the curtain call photo above). The dancers were brilliant (though Erina Takahashi seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time mopping the stage in the first half). Anyway I hope (and am sure) that others enjoyed it more, but it was an anti-climactic return to live performance for me.

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I agree broadly with the reviews above. 

 

Does include some plot spoilers below so don’t read on if you don’t want those! 

 

Pros for me were -

Brilliantly danced as always by ENB Corps. Cirio is like a contortionist and it’s incredible what the dancers can do with their bodies independently but also as a group movement.


Orchestra on top form (although felt a bit underused and it’s a shame they were often drowned out). 

 

Sadly for me there were more negatives than positives.

 

As @LinMMnotes it was incredibly loud, I know it’s meant to be atmospheric but this felt unnecessary (walls shaking), distracting, and my ears hurt. Khan’s Giselle managed to be dramatic loud without being quite this deafening.

 

Unfortunately for me the story and dramatic arc didn’t really come through. I shouldn’t have to read the programme details to understand what’s going on. I felt the relationships between Creature and the main female character (Marie) didn’t develop as it was meant to - there were no real long pas de deux (equivalent to what we would see in Khan’s Giselle or Manon). 

 

I felt the music often took away from the emotion with it being overly loud and repetitive without adding any nuance. I don’t remember any specific tunes (the way I do with Giselle or other ballets), just a loud tone.

 

I also didn’t like the voiceovers, as they were rather jarring, at times felt like they were trying too hard to do something different/abstract and there wasn’t a clear link to what they were saying and the story and it broke my connection with understanding an emotion or story through movement alone - which is a big part of dance for me. I think the programme explains a bit more about the voiceovers - but again I maintain dance shouldn’t need explanation (although additional insight through articles that add additional layers is always appreciated, it shouldn’t be necessary). 

 

The choreography itself also didn’t really dazzle me and at times felt a little underwhelming and repetitive. Nothing really memorable in terms of movement the way I can remember certain parts of other ballets. 

 

Finally I felt the story/choreography veered a little into misogynist ‘there for the sake of it’ violence against women territory. I don’t say this lightly as I think it’s important to show darker aspects in art forms. I love Manon for example. 

 

With Manon we get to see lots of different sides to her character with various dances and interactions with other characters, and the final rape scene is there to detail the harsh reality faced by women in Manon’s situation at the time, and it is appropriately detailed with the agonising scene itself and then followed with the pas de deux with Manon/Des Grieux showing its devastating impact. 

 

In Creature we don’t really see much of Marie’s character and the assault and aftermath to me felt like a shallow add on and an ‘easy’ way to conclude the story with a tragic ending. If the character had been explored more with a proper solo dance, perhaps I would have felt differently. 

 

Of course all the above is my subjective opinion and I’m sure others will disagree. I will say that I really loved Khan’s Giselle, Dust, and I also have no problem with darker ballets and violence being tackled like in Manon and Bausch’s Rite of Spring (which I loved when ENB did it). So I really had high expectations for this and wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t. 

 

For me Khan’s Giselle had a good variation of choreography (group Corps pieces, pas de deux, pointe work), music that was dramatic but also interesting, set the mood and was not overpowering of the work, and built characters and emotion much better overall. 

 

I felt Creature didn’t build the characters as individuals or relationships with one another strongly enough (a fault of the choreography rather than the dancers) and it just felt all too dark and loud. Giselle was dark but emotional, this left me a bit cold and detached. For me it felt very much the ballet equivalent of modern art (eg Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin) - experimental and something I just didn’t “get”, so I’d be interested to see what others and the critics make of it. 

 

Sorry to be so negative, I think it’s great that ENB is continuing to explore different dance forms and commission new work. I would happily go and see Giselle again and if Khan ever choreographed for them again would also want to go and see that but I won’t be seeing Creature again. I also very nearly left at interval but thought I should stick it out, I’m glad I did give it a fair shot and I hope others who go enjoy it and see something in it I don’t! 

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And sadly I was another interval leaver. I was very disappointed with this - is it the subject matter I wonder as no production seems to succeed. I found it all too repetitive - both musically and choreographically. 
I left feeling nostalgic for some of the ENB back catalogue that seems to have been discarded.

 

 

 

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I saw the working stage rehearsal on Wednesday night and also left at the interval. My views and also the sound of the half hearted applause, at least in the Circle when the curtain came down on Act 1 really did echo the comments above.

 

I enjoyed the powerful choreography, but I felt after about 20 minutes of non-stop movement to excruciating sounds, it would have been better to change the tone and dynamic and move onto something different, a pause into a more soft setting or pas de deux or explanation of the plot.
 

The escapism of the theatre was missing - those anxiety inducing sounds reflect the modern world a little too well!

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My friends and I also only lasted until the interval - same at the working stage rehearsal.

I'd been really looking forward to this, I love Khan's work and particularly his reimagined Giselle. The "music" was a relentless aural assault even with earplugs and unlike Giselle, there was no discernible melody. It's not just an "age" thing either my 25 year old daughter felt exactly the same ! 

I didn't find the choreography at all interesting and with the exception of the incredibly flexible Cirio the ENB dancers seemed woefully underused - poor Marie spent much of Act 1 pushing a mop around. 

 

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It seems that when I said some of you would definitely like it and some would definitely not I was wrong. I seem to be in a minority of one! But then my hearing's probably been wrecked by a lifetime of listening to loud music. I remember once seeing Dr John at Manchester University and you could feel the breeze coming from the speakers it was so loud. Having said that though, the loudest experience I ever had was sitting in the choir seats behind the percussion section of the BBC Philharmonic and hearing Rite of Spring. Now THAT is loud!!

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I find the response so far (above) incredibly sad, not least because it is mine too.

 

I left at the interval for reasons unconnected with the show. But, Cirio’s riveting performance and the massively energetic commitment of the corps apart, it did not grab me narratively or choreographically.

 

I felt that I’d been there before with Akram Khan (some of the Corps sequences could have morphed into his Dust). I have just heard him talking on Radio 4 (and I did have a synopsis which needs to be provided free) but I didn’t ‘receive’ the intended vision or feel engaged with the characters.

 

I didn’t want it to be this way. I was excited for ENB to be returning to performing in front of a full audience and for this particular endeavour, but ………..

 

Maybe I will feel differently if I give it a second go. The casting is very tempting.

 

Please take earplugs if you are going.

 

 

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Oh dear I thought it was just me being a bit over sensitive yesterday. I had no idea so many others left at the interval. 
I did feel as if I was “letting the side down” a bit not to see the whole thing through to the end but a friend who was there told me it didn’t get any better in the second half there was no let up and had a very gloomy ending ( which somehow I had anticipated) 

I don’t know whether it’s the after effects of recent events in last 18 months and particularly for UK where the future is so uncertain but not sure I’m attracted to a Work with absolutely NO hope in it at all right now. Perhaps there should have been some redeeming bit of light after all! 
Much as I respect Akram Khan ....and think he is an extraordinary performer himself and I did like his Giselle ...I feel this piece is almost too powerful in its message of we are all basically doomed ....so you won’t want reminding too often! So not a Piece to be a mainstay of the Rep I think. 
That’s why I think such unremitting gloom is best shown in one Act only as I don’t think people will want to go to the theatre for two hours of this however powerful. 
If it was one Act it could be shown with something else and then perhaps become part of the Rep more. That’s just my view and I was so looking forward to this after all this time. 
I do hope more people will have positive reactions though for the sake of ENB. 




 

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2 hours ago, ChrisG said:

It seems that when I said some of you would definitely like it and some would definitely not I was wrong. I seem to be in a minority of one! But then my hearing's probably been wrecked by a lifetime of listening to loud music. I remember once seeing Dr John at Manchester University and you could feel the breeze coming from the speakers it was so loud. Having said that though, the loudest experience I ever had was sitting in the choir seats behind the percussion section of the BBC Philharmonic and hearing Rite of Spring. Now THAT is loud!!

You  are not in a minority of one ChrisG as the husband and I loved it, as did the guys sat next to us (who were among many who stood and cheered loudly at the end!)

Yes it was loud, but nowhere near the unbearable volume we were subjected to at the ROH in McGregor's piece  to 'It's Gonna Rain'.....that made my ears bleed!

OK it's not as easily accessible as Giselle (but we all knew the back story and the music in advance) but I think it will definitely grow with a second viewing and am looking forward to seeing another cast next week.

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29 minutes ago, LinMM said:

Oh dear I thought it was just me being a bit over sensitive yesterday. I had no idea so many others left at the interval. 
I did feel as if I was “letting the side down” a bit not to see the whole thing through to the end but a friend who was there told me it didn’t get any better in the second half there was no let up and had a very gloomy ending ( which somehow I had anticipated) 

I don’t know whether it’s the after effects of recent events in last 18 months and particularly for UK where the future is so uncertain but not sure I’m attracted to a Work with absolutely NO hope in it at all right now. Perhaps there should have been some redeeming bit of light after all! 
Much as I respect Akram Khan ....and think he is an extraordinary performer himself and I did like his Giselle ...I feel this piece is almost too powerful in its message of we are all basically doomed ....so you won’t want reminding too often! So not a Piece to be a mainstay of the Rep I think. 
That’s why I think such unremitting gloom is best shown in one Act only as I don’t think people will want to go to the theatre for two hours of this however powerful. 
If it was one Act it could be shown with something else and then perhaps become part of the Rep more. That’s just my view and I was so looking forward to this after all this time. 
I do hope more people will have positive reactions though for the sake of ENB. 




 

I agree, and perhaps put this into a double or triple bill, with something more uplifting, a Forsythe work perhaps, that was well received in the summer. With all the doom and gloom, 2021 is not the year to sit through something as dark and painful as this performance was!

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Oh dear...reading all of the above, I am already not looking forward to next Wednesday night's show.  A friend wrote to me privately and pretty much echoed the negative comments above.  

 

Maybe ENB would have been better starting the new season with something happy and uplifting, instead of reminding us all of where we've been and where, sadly, we seem to be going.  For me, anyway, a bit of escapism never goes amiss.   I know that RB and BRB are both kicking off with Romeo and Juliet which isn't exactly happy....but in that case the glorious music, choreography, sets and costumes more than compensate for the fact that everyone dies at the end, and somehow I always come out of it feeling uplifted.  

 

 

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On the issue of loudness, I've often found the use of recorded sound at Sadler's Wells to be unpleasantly loud.  However, I see from the curtain call photo earlier in this thread that it was a live orchestra in the pit - and I wouldn't expect its natural sound to have been as overwhelming as many have reported.  So, is this a case in which the external control box at the back of the stalls is playing the live sound, but heavily amplified?  The shape of the score, the balance between brass and strings, and the composer's dramatic markings, for example, will be significant here - but to hear of so many leaving at the Interval suggests that whoever is in that box needs his/her ears examined.  

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I go to a lot of shows by "normal" standards but don't really have the time or means to see everything by default. Sometimes I think it's interesting or revealing to know why someone has decided not to book for something - so, for what it's worth: I liked Dust but not as much as others did; I liked the Akram Khan Giselle a lot first time round but quite a bit less the second; I had my doubts about how much further AK could take his choreography with ballet dancers; the Frankenstein story has never really appealed to me (and nor has Woyzeck); if it's any good, ENB will put it on again and possibly tour it to somewhere near me.

 

It looks like I can add overly loud music to the list - I thought it was at acceptable levels for the Giselle but this sounds much worse. (I really detest over-amplified music, it's a nasty experience for people not used to it and it's given me a thumping headache on occasion. Very loud unamplified music I can happily deal with, on the other hand!)

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9 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

On the issue of loudness, I've often found the use of recorded sound at Sadler's Wells to be unpleasantly loud.  However, I see from the curtain call photo earlier in this thread that it was a live orchestra in the pit - and I wouldn't expect its natural sound to have been as overwhelming as many have reported.  So, is this a case in which the external control box at the back of the stalls is playing the live sound, but heavily amplified?  The shape of the score, the balance between brass and strings, and the composer's dramatic markings, for example, will be significant here - but to hear of so many leaving at the Interval suggests that whoever is in that box needs his/her ears examined.  

 

the orchestra 'accompanied' the electronica/sound effects, so had to be mic'd up and amplified to balance the soundscape. Think the sound was balanced by someone who had gone deaf for a living...

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I’ve already put my (long!) thoughts above but just wanted to say I’m both glad and sad that others agreed with the negative aspects I mentioned.

 

Glad as I was worried I was being overly sensitive to the incredibly loud noise and wondering if I was completely missing something brilliant in the choreography. 
 

And of course sad that I didn’t love it as I wanted and expected to. 
 

I know it’s been a gloomy year and I can see people saying perhaps a brighter opening should have been chosen. For me the topic would have been fine if well executed and actually emotionally moving. At times I was dare I say bored, and mostly uncomfortable with the incredibly loud noise - I actually fear my ears hurt today (I may be being paranoid) and I’m actually tempted to email in to SW and ENB as that can’t be an acceptable level of noise, certainly to sustain for that time. 
 

The more I reflect the more miserable the whole experience was, which then makes me even more miserable as I feel for the dancers who have put their time and effort into the piece. I’m seriously questioning Rojo’s judgement on this which puts me off booking for Raymonda - but art is subjective and it appears others have liked it. I suppose Khan would have had creative freedom so perhaps that’s an unfair comment but honestly I wonder if he did receive any dissenting views at all? 
 

And did no one in the rehearsals note the incredible loudness? Can’t be nice for the orchestra to be sat in that and the dancers each night. 

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I liked the way it started, and especially the way the corps came onstage early in act one. But for me, it went a bit downhill after that. Many scenes just seemed to go on too long, and halfway through act two, I found myself just hoping it would end soon. Which isn't good, and certainly not what I wa hoping for. One thing that did seem too short, conversely, were any of the meaningful pdds. The 'Marie' part (Erina Takahashi) seemed a bit undercooked, making her seem underused, if rather over abused. Hats off to Jeffrey Cirio though, his dancing was mesmerisingly terrific, though again, the final solo was a tad too long I thought, even as brilliantly danced as it was. I didn't have that much trouble following the 'plot' (or at least, my mind's eye version of it) - though still wondering about the space/Artic helmets, and their apparent superpowers

Yes, the music was loud in parts, but that wasn't what bothered me so much about it - it was that it appeared to be building up to a crescendo - and then..... nowt, either in the action or in the pit. Which was a bit perplexing at times.

So for me, glad I saw it, and there were parts I found captivating, but won't be upset not to see it again. Though if it is rerun in the future, I would probably be tempted. Its that sort of piece.

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1 minute ago, Ian Macmillan said:

Dave, thanks for the explanation - so the resultant mixed sound will have been generated by the same folk who have put me off with recorded work in the past.  

 

indeed - could be easily fixed if they didn't have the electronica play back so loud, then could then also dial down the amplification of the orchestra. Doubt there's any chance of that though, as I dare say the large proportion of younger theatre goers in attendance last nght, wouldn't have been bothered at all

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It might be worth remembering that Multiverse was reduced in volume following complaints. Perhaps ENB/Sadler’s Wells will take note and adjust the volume? But it’s poor that production teams don’t seem to pay sufficient attention to volume levels during rehearsals.

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29 minutes ago, JohnS said:

It might be worth remembering that Multiverse was reduced in volume following complaints. Perhaps ENB/Sadler’s Wells will take note and adjust the volume? But it’s poor that production teams don’t seem to pay sufficient attention to volume levels during rehearsals.

 

I had similar problems with the sound levels in the last revival of Khan’s Giselle. I’m pretty sure that the music was not amplified in its earlier runs.  When it was revived in 2019, the sound was amplified to such an extent that I left the auditiorium with severe earache.  I wrote to complain and the response (below) confirms the comments DaveM made above:

 

"Our Head of Sound has advised that the show artistically has been created with moments of high orchestral drama, and therefore the volume is of a louder nature than a traditional classical score. A good portion of sounds produced in this show do not come from the orchestra but from a computer, therefore the computer sounds and orchestral music is balanced to all sound correct leaving the loudspeakers rather than what is heard acoustically from the orchestra pit. Please also be assured, the sound levels were measured and are in line with the guidance set out by the Health and Safety Executive. This is not a Sadler’s Wells production, and therefore the intentions behind the way the music is presented to the audience will stem directly from choreographer, composer, conductor and then fed to the sound designer."

 

It's interesting that earplugs are always available, free of charge, from the programme desks at Sadler's Wells.  They clearly expect many of their shows to have  over-amplified sound.

Edited by Bluebird
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Well it’s not just the loudness of the music maybe ....and it certainly was loud as my seat was vibrating and I was sat upstairs in the second circle!! Definitely louder than the Giselle piece....but the music itself. 
I don’t mind loud music quite so much if it has some sort of interesting or catchy rhythm to it or some light and shade ...Led Zeppelin rocks lol!.....but this was like a wall of sound constantly building up it was just very unpleasant though as I said earlier what the composer intended he didn’t want this to be a pleasant experience.
I understand that Theatre has to vary and not all of it has to be “entertaining”

This Piece is not meant to be entertaining it’s a whole experience in itself and am sure that’s what Khan intended too but it’s just  too long!! 
I know some of the movements are a bit repetitive but that sort of made dramatic sense as we do endlessly repeat ourselves as a species I suppose and take millennia to change! 
However in all this endless repetition there are many moments of enlightened Hope entirely missing here! 
Typically I only read the Programme this morning and so had no idea yesterday it was set in the Artic and experiments were being conducted to see how we could survive off the planet so seemingly very futuristic. 
Then the Mayor character comes in straight out of the 19th Century so could just have easily been set on some Gulag somewhere and not a future end of time World. 
When you read the Programme I wonder whether Khan was being a bit too ambitious as too many themes crossing....perhaps two shorter ballets trying to get out I say hopefully. 
Nobody else’s views should ever put anyone off going to see something though. 
You just never know how something is going to affect you. 
I didn’t realise just how in an underlying way the past 18 months has obviously affected me. 
Khan has definitely achieved something here for sure. 

 

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@Bluebird were earplugs advertised as being available at the theatre? I didn’t see this but would have picked some up at the interval if I had known this so thank you for that knowledge.

 

I hope that they would advertise them, and maybe highlight the noise 

 

I have complained/fed back to SW about the sound. I imagine I’ll receive a response identical to the one above but I suppose the more that do feed back the more likely something might be done. 
 

I shouldn’t have to use earplugs to ‘enjoy’/tolerate the sound. Giselle for me bordered on the acceptable sound level but it was briefer (maybe it was the same level but not for the whole production?). This really pushed it over the edge for me and I’ve never experienced anything like it. 

I am a bit concerned as my ears are still not quite right today, I don’t wish to put anyone off attending but please do get some earplugs (or bring your own) and put them in if you feel you need to. 
 

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20 minutes ago, JNC said:

@Bluebird were earplugs advertised as being available at the theatre? I didn’t see this but would have picked some up at the interval if I had known this so thank you for that knowledge.

 

I don't think they're advertised as being available.  Some time ago I found the taped sound for a performance so uncomfortably loud that I left, intending to go home.  I told an usher why I was leaving and she gave me some earplugs and suggested I go back in and see if they helped.   I managed the rest of the performance by inserting the earplugs AND putting my hands over my ears!  Since then, I've always known to ask for them.  As far as I know, they keep a supply at all the programme stands.  

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Have just arrived at Sadler’s Wells. There are now signs at all levels saying “Please be aware that this performance contains very loud music” I don’t remember seeing these signs yesterday. Did anyone who was here last night see them?  If not, this is presumably ENB’s way of responding to the complaints.

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