Critical Context: Continuing Khan’s legacy, ‘Creature’ gives voice to the voiceless

In an interview with London-based choreographer Akram Khan, I was let in on the basis of his new work “Creature,” featuring the English National Ballet and scheduled to premiere in the U.S. Thursday at the Harris Theater. 

Initially sparked by the themes of isolation present in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and further guided by George Büchner’s unfinished play “Woyzeck,” “Creature” takes us on an arctic journey exploring the last frontier, testing human thresholds and challenging us to question what we inevitably leave behind on our collective quest for more. 

Rooted in his upbringing by his mother, Khan recognized that his mother put a filter on traditional patriarchal stories; she shared the feminine point of view and questioned the motives and actions of many of our beloved heroes. “My mother always told the story from a matriarchal perspective. She often questioned why Eve was the problem and not Adam, why Magdalene was the problem and not Jesus,” said Khan.

It was this practice of questioning and alternate perspectives that serve as the bedrock to Khan's performances, in his past work, “Xenos,” when he tells the stories of forgotten African and Indian soldiers from World War II and now with “Creature.”

The performance begins with a famous phone conversation between Richard Nixon and American Astronauts as they landed on the moon for the first time in 1970:

“Because of what you’ve done, the heavens have become a part of man's world, and as you talk to us from the sea of tranquility it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace on Earth.” 

Khan was taken back by the audacity of Nixon’s statement. “The arrogance of mankind to think we own this planet, that we own this universe,” he said. “It is this constant quest of the Western world seeking to control nature—the feminine—in essence, the creator that Khan wishes to poignantly speak to in “Creature.”

Executed by principal dancer Jeffrey Cirio of the English National Ballet, Khan’s Creature character takes us on an enduring journey of darkness and helplessness. With movements and gestures inspired by the facial expressions of Charlie Chaplin and various animalistic postures, Cirio digs deep inside his physical reservoir, inspiring us to tell the stories which lay dormant in our own bodies. 

Through incredible athleticism, fluid partnering and non-linear storytelling, the work promises to cast a light on the many victims of colonization rather than the victor. Khan reiterates that his work is intended to uplift the voices of the marginalized, reminding us of a proverb by Chinua Achebe, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

English National Ballet presents Akram Khan’s “Creature” Thursday through Saturday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St. Tickets start at $35 and are available by clicking the event page below.