On the 21st of October I went to see James Wilton Dance perform LEVIATHAN at Gulbenkian, Canterbury. The piece is loosely based on the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville and re-imagined by the multi-award winning choreographer James Wilton. LEVIATHAN uses a mixture of contemporary dance, martial arts, capoeira, and partner work. I didn’t know what I expected from the piece, as I hadn’t read Moby dick so I wasn’t sure if I would get what was going on.
The piece follows Ahab, a fisherman who is committed in his pursuit of a majestic and powerful white whale. Together with his crew, he follows a perilous path to unlikely victory. As well as the narrative, the theme of men trying to conquer nature is also explored.
The opening scene to LEVIATHAN was very powerful, the way the six male dancers interacted with one another was fascinating. The intense partner contact work successfully captured the fisherman, who seemed to battle to be the one who captures the whale, a beautiful creature of the sea. The way the dancers used their bodies and the martial arts to struggle with each other helped to convey the sense that one was trying to be in power. This was one of my favourite scenes because the fast paced, strong and creative choreography really transported me to the dangers of the ocean both on board and under the raging seas.
The lighting was effective, with sidelights and backlight contributing to the atmosphere. Colder whites and blues were used for the whale. I think this is to show how the whale is such a majestic and pure creature. I think the use of the blue was also used to create the sense of how brutal the whale could be, hence the coldness. The costumes were unremarkable, with practicality being the main function, as you would expect with such a physically demanding dance style. The colours used helped to identify the characters, the whale in white, the fisherman in darker, earthy tones.
Another part I really enjoyed watching was after Ahab got injured and he realised that he would be stronger with others. Using ropes as props, they joined forces to try and over power the whale. This strength was portrayed in the way they linked together and used each other to move as one. I also enjoyed the section when all the fisherman, apart from Ahab, become part of the whale, and all moved together in a beautiful way. The choreography became more serene with undulating movements that transported the audience to a playful and tranquil underwater world.
I think the theme of man verses nature was very prominent in LEVIATHAN. I saw parallels with man’s greed and unrelenting drain on nature’s resources through the pursuit of Moby Dick and how ultimately, we are unable to control nature. During a question and answer session after the show, James Wilton said he wanted the whale to be a personification of nature, and I think this was clearly shown in the piece. I thought it was interesting how as a choreographer he used the only female in the piece as the whale. He did this to portray women as the ones who bring life, and the men take it away.
I believe this show was a success, as the message was clear and the audience was truly engaged in the exhilarating journey through this incredible art form. It wasn’t like anything I’ve seen before, and I really appreciated the energy of the performance. I thought the narrative of the piece was interesting and I like the way the choreography used a mixture of dance and almost physical theatre to convey the story. LEVIATHAN also made me realise how much I enjoy watching dance, as I can connect to the art form in the same way as I connect to music and they both evoke such an emotional response in me. It also made me want to learn about how to light a dance show, as I like how it enhanced the characters. Overall I thought the show was fantastic as it kept me excited and I connected with the piece through the way the dancers moved and the way that then made me feel.
Inspired to see the show? You can catch LEVIATHAN on tour across the UK throughout November and December. Tour dates available here.