Creature – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographer: Akram Khan

Director: Asif Kapadia

Dance film learned a great deal from the covid hiatus about the relationship between choreography and cinema, how to tell a story through shot selection that must give equal primacy to intimate character reflection and the pattern of full company segments. One of the most significant choreographic pieces of the last ten years, Akram Khan’s Creature earned huge critical acclaim when it was first performed, and this specially designed film version has its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

A young man wakes up, a sentient being trying to understand the world he now appears in where he must learn their ways and try to fit in. As a religious figure attempts to guide him, the creature is taken with a woman who is unsure what to make of him. But the women is coveted by the leader who will take whatever he wants, prepared to eject the non-conforming creature into the icy wildness.

Creature is not a filmed performance but has been specifically adapted and shot as a film, directed by Asif Kapadia. And Khan’s story and choreography make a dynamic and immersive transfer to the screen, presenting Khan’s themes about evolution, science, faith and dystopian rigour as well as the battle between power and innocence. The big ensemble sections are particularly effective reflecting the rigorous angularity of the choreography as though free movement and individuality were outlawed and instead an accepting uniformity has descended.

But there is psychological insight as well and Kapadia utilises the specific techniques of film to add to the intensity, atmosphere and story development. There are plenty of close-ups, capturing the Creature’s emotional responses, the pain and joy of living and the complexity of those interactions with other people. Kapadia also employs distortion, flickering and crackling in the films we see to reflect the mental power he seems to have to control as well as the pain of knowledge whenever he dons the spaceman’s helmet.

Tim Yip’s set design blends a futuristic and more old-fashioned dynamic, a wooden hut and apparently modern society with the possibilities of the space age, rockets and moon exploration that overlay the story. This is similarly reflected in Yip’s costume design blending all-in-one grey space suits with the full-skirted coat of the leader, while Creature himself is somewhere between the two, although a ragged and unfinished version of this society.

Danced by Jeffrey Cirio, he finds lots of elements in the Creature, making him an innocent throughout with a childlike expression of happiness, curiosity, innocence, affection and sorrow. The film watches him evolve, learning by copying and eventually understanding the great emotional range of human life without being quite ready for it. Erina Takahashi makes a compelling mother-figure/lover and it is never clear what Creature’s interest in her is, while Fabian Reimair as the terrifying Major is full of pouting entitlement.

Creature is a dance that understands the rhythm of film, one that uses the technique of both to enhance the hybrid form. You might need a little knowledge of the synopsis to make sense of all of it but a step forward for the genre nonetheless.

Creature is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022 andwill be released in UK cinemas on 24 February 2023.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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