Dir.: Asif Kapadia; Ballet choegraphed by Aksam Khan with Jeffrey Cirio, Stina Quagebeur, Fabian Reimair, Erina Takahashi, Ken Saruhashi; UK 2022, 87 min.
Asif Kapadia has drastically shortened Aksam Khan’s titular ballet from 120 to 87 minutes. One should not forget, that the original Ballet reviews were not too positive, and one point often mentioned was the running time, seen as overly self-indulgent. Kapadia’s version is not only streamlined, but concentrates on the main themes of the production: existential loneliness and revenge.
Georg Büchner’s unfinished play “Woyzek” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” are the cornerstones of the ballet. With Khan having changed the repressive small town atmosphere of “Woyzek” to the arctic laboratory, Kapadia can stage the ballet more or less in one place: the scientists/soldiers’ wooden hut which later on partially collapses.
The Creature (Cirio) is very much in love with his wife Marie (Takahashi), but she is drawn to the loudmouth Drum Major (Reimair). Whilst the Creature tries to gain entrance into society, he exists merely to serve as a test object for the group of scientists/soldiers who are keen to find out how long their specimen can withstand the deadly hypothermia. At the same time scientists and soldiers are seen as a compatible unit and that the female camp doctor (Quagebeur) is a comic copy of Dr. Mengele, whose horrific medical tests were responsible for many deaths at Auschwitz/Birkenau. On the middle level of the ruling hierarchy, the captain (Saruhashu), uses the Creature to provide for his daily comfort.
Repeated tape recordings of the conversation president Nixon had with the astronauts of the moon landing on 20.7.1969 play out through the film, Nixon calling them – rather derogatively by their first names – Neill and Buzz. Andy Serkis lends his voice to some computer-voiced commentary, but neither of these elements particularly enhance the ballet feature.
DoP Daniel Landin keeps the light arctic dark, with the protagonists looking like shadows of themselves. Symbolically, and in line with his prototype status, the Creature is stripped of any form of warm clothing and treated like a wild animal, rather than a human. The minimalist wooden set is constructed like a fortress in the white arctic landscape, with the Creature enduring endless tests to measure his resistance to ice and snow. But his personal battle with the Major for the soul of Marie is even more inhumane, since he is not even granted the status of a combattant. The Major and The Doctor head up the oppressive regime, science and military might working hand in hand. This central theme connects the ballet with Shelley’s Frankenstein: the creature being led loose into a world bent on destroying him while his once proud creator stands by helpless.
Creature is a brutal and unforgiving ballet of sorrow and alienation, both physical and psychological. A true horror feature, set like a spartan Western film, with the main protagonist literally stripped of everything. AS
ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY