Inspired loosely on Herman Melville’s classic tale, Moby-Dick, James Wilton Dance’s LEVIATHAN (the biblical sea monster Melville references in his text a number of times) is a high-energy tale of Ahab, Captain of the whaling ship Pequod, and his revengeful obsession with a monstrous white whale, Moby-Dick. An obsession is rarely a good thing, and Ahab’s leads to his eventful death (and that of the majority of his crew).
LEVIATHAN is a succinct and punchy work, lasting only around 40 minutes, and is presented as seven short segued “chapters”. The fast-paced, very physical, almost confrontational dancing of the mariners, contrasts nicely with the sinewy, meditative movements of the white whale they are bent on slaughtering (an excellent and bendy Sarah Jane Taylor). Simple staging, but with well-designed lighting and a dramatically effective use of ropes, helps to make this an agreeably uncluttered work.
However, although there is often impressive physical power here from the dancers, who are clearly technically very secure, LEVIATHAN’s momentum peters out surprisingly quickly. The choreography is based on a fairly limited set of ideas, and as these become repetitive, they gradually become more difficult to engage with.
This is almost certainly due in part to LEVIATHAN’s need to follow the logic of the underlying tale. In creating a precis of Melville’s work, choreographer James Wilton has perhaps left out too much narrative/character development, which is then reflected in the limited development of his choreography. The choice of music (all by Lunatic Soul), which is somewhat generic, unfortunately does not help here.
On the other hand, emphasising the beauty and calm of Moby-Dick, rather than the whale’s, for example, size, strength and ferocity, is inspired, and emphasises mankind’s not always very positive relationship with nature and indeed beauty: another important theme of this work.
All in all, although a mixed bag in some ways, LEVIATHAN is certainly a very visually dramatic and in some ways thought-provoking piece, and thus nevertheless well worth seeing.