Choreographer / Director: James Wilton
Reviewer: Helen Tope
Inspired by Herman Melville’s epic novel Moby Dick, Leviathan is choreographer James Wilton’s latest production.
Having established a company with a reputation for daring, energetic pieces (blending athleticism with contemporary dance), James Wilton Dance takes on a larger narrative this time; exploring themes such as Man vs. Nature, isolation, and the psychology of control.
Melville’s novel illustrates a struggle not only against the odds, but against all sound judgement. A story of obsession beyond reason, it is this conflict that becomes the focus of Leviathan.
With a cast of six performers, Leviathan re-imagines the elemental game of capture and evasion between Captain Ahab and The Whale. The choreography of any James Wilton production is easy to identify, but harder to categorise. A mix of capoeira and modern dance, Leviathan evokes the tension between Captain Ahab and his rebellious crew with group work that’s both audacious and ambitious.
While these set pieces, with their wild, unbridled energy, almost steal the show, the generosity within Wilton’s choreography also allows the performers to shine as individuals. As a consequence, there are great moments within this production, and a special mention has to go to Sarah Jane Taylor, playing the eponymous creature. Playing The Whale with fluid, sinuous movements, Taylor fills in the outline of the mythical beast; giving it dignity and making it beautiful.
It is this attention to detail that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the JWD productions. A bare stage, a row of lights and a progressive rock soundtrack are all that’s needed – the dance fills the stage, so anything more would be superfluous. With a soundtrack from Lunatic Soul, Leviathan’s dark, pulsating rhythms are not there to fade into the background; they instead become another character, voicing Ahab’s fears and frustrations.
These details build to create a story that is told vividly, and with great clarity. If you’ve ever found contemporary dance difficult to unpick, James Wilton Dance gives you narrative – dynamic and far-reaching, making it one of their most accessible and enjoyable works.
When interviewed just as rehearsals began for Leviathan, James Wilton interest in ecology – and the role we play in maintaining our environment – was clearly at the forefront of the planning process. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Leviathan concentrates so much on our attempts to harness Nature and how those efforts unravel.
Leviathan proposes no easy answersbut suggests that the simplest message is often the hardest to understand. If you want contemporary dance that delivers on style and substance, Leviathan offers a meditation on our relationship to Nature that engages both hearts and minds. It’s bold, innovative and exhilarating. It’s James Wilton Dance’s best production to date.
Runs until 24 September 2016 | Image: Steve Tanner