When I went to see Leviathan at the MAC last Friday, all I knew was that it was a contemporary dance piece based on the story of Moby Dick.
It sounded intriguing enough, despite the fact that I was having trouble remembering the basic storyline of Herman Melville’s classic novel, having never read it. I had seen the film, years ago, but all I could remember was a vague impression of a crazed sea-captain of a whaling ship being absolutely determined to catch some particular whale at any cost. Ahab, this captain was called, and the whale was Moby Dick. Ahab sought revenge on the whale for biting his leg off at the knee on a previous expedition. My lack of knowledge was not to be a problem, I was relieved to find. The performance was only loosely based on Moby Dick, picking up key themes rather than attempting a complete retelling.
Throughout, the performance evoked the theme of obsession and desperation that runs through Melville’s novel, portrayed through a remarkable flow of capoeira, martial arts and stunningly athletic dance. The result is hard to put into words. The stark lighting, making use of black and white, with rare flashes of yellow, the arresting artistry and deft expression of the dancers, accompanied by a moving electro-rock soundtrack by the Polish prog band Lunatic Soul melded to create a remarkable show (check this trailer of the show). The only prop was long lengths of heavy rope, skilfully used. The rest of the time we were left to marvel at the dancers. The female lead, dressed all in white as some embodiment of the whale that Ahab seeks, maintained her distance from the audience all evening. We were never acknowledged, scarcely saw her face, were treated to long moments where she seemed to flex each individual muscle in her back. She was completely ethereal, totally elusive, neatly giving us an insight into Ahab’s frustration that he cannot catch her. This is a frustration that we saw mounting all evening with Ahab’s vocal and dynamic performance evoking the chaos of his mind.
Every dancer was perfectly poised, panther-like in their bounce and stealth, radiating strength and artistry in a way that I could never have expected when I settled into my seat that evening. The performance was creative and innovative in every aspect. There were times when they were all linked together and sailed over and under one another in a way that did not seem possible, even as they proved me wrong. The James Wilton Dance company gave us something unique, something startling, something powerful.