• LEVIATHAN review by Peter Jacobs at Contact Manchester

    James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan aspires to greatness, loosely inspired by one of the Great American Novels of the Nineteenth Century – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In the novel, Captain Ahab becomes obsessed with capturing a white whale, ‘a beast as vast and dangerous as the sea itself, yet serene and beautiful beyond all imagining’.  Choreographer/dancer James Wilton takes the idea of one man’s obsession for something beautiful and mysterious and unattainable and pulls in elements of imagery from the source material in a cleverly distilled way.

    There are threads of narrative in the construction of this two-act full-length piece of contemporary dance but Leviathan sets itself neatly between the twin pillars of narrative and abstraction. It is constructed with enough action and imagery – and nautical rope – to drive the narrative without wading into using drama or text to ‘tell the story’.  The work is divided into chapters, carefully constructed with the diverse and progressive electronic-rock soundtrack by Polish musician Mariusz Duda, recording as Lunatic Soul, which creates an underpinning soundtrack that is in turns ambient and purposefully aggressive.

    Choreographing to rock is characteristic of Wilton’s work, as is the finely-modulated aggression of his choreography, which combines extreme but controlled physicality with elements of capoeira, martial arts and intense trust and strength-reliant partnering, which sees dancers hurtling through the air with impressive fearlessness and control. This style works well at capturing the choreography of male violence and man’s animalistic underbelly that characterises Ahab’s relationship with his crew, who are drawn into danger by their captain’s single-mindedness. It works equally well in the second act when all the cast but Wilton himself become the embodiment of the forces of nature – the whale and the sea.

    Swirling, liquid, full-bodied movements fall with the softest impact to the floor, creating a real sense of the endlessly shifting and rolling ocean: entrancing and overwhelming Ahab with its fathomable depths. The second half builds smoothly, driven by the music and the consistency of Wilton’s choreography, from lyrical beauty and simplicity and a sense of human failure to a final section of genuine excitement. The insertion of an interval not only breaks up the piece into two manageable halves but marks an actual sea change in Ahab’s mental state.

    The whale itself – and the elusive beauty of nature – are represented throughout by Sarah Jayne Taylor, whose muscular fluidity of movement is hypnotic, half in sight, half-illusory. Unobtainable and distant. Wilton himself retains a charismatic and brooding presence through the work, ably supported by Michael Kelland, Joshua Smith, Harland Rust and Samuel Baxter, who bring impressive ability and individuality to the work.

    The production benefits from some impressive lighting designs by Alan Dawson, which create a stormy nocturnal atmosphere, and punctuates the action with dazzling full stops.

    Leviathan is an ambitious piece of dance from a distinctive choreographer who really knows how to let the body tell a story – and it’s a whale of a tale.

  • LEVIATHAN Review- by Georgina Wells Contact Manchester show

    It’s amazing what you can achieve with six dancers, an electro-rock soundtrack, some atmospheric lighting and a few lengths of rope. James Wilton Dance’s latest work, Leviathan, is low on visual frills but high on athleticism, dramatic impact and meaningful message.

    Loosely retelling the story of Moby Dick, Wilton uses the story of Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the great White Whale as a springboard to explore mankind’s relationship with the planet. Leviathan has an unquestionably environmentalist agenda—Ahab (danced by James Wilton himself) seeks to exert his power not just over the whale, but also over his feral crew members, who scurry across the stage on all fours.

    There’s a neat tableau of the stages of man, with Ahab as the final stage and turning to fire a gun at his own evolutionary history. It’s thought-provoking and more than a little depressing to see mankind’s callous attitude to nature played out onstage, but James Wilton Dance should be applauded for proving how effectively dance can engage with current issues.

    Sarah Jane Taylor, the only female member of the cast, embodies the White Whale and nature itself in beautifully sinuous solos. A lack of eye contact with the audience maintains the great animal’s sense of enigma, whilst the constant rippling movement in her limbs and back mimics the motion of underwater creatures.

    The first half of Leviathan focusses on Ahab’s battle to bring both the men and the whale under his control using long, thick ropes—this reflects not just the maritime theme, but also the inescapable ties that bind our global ecosystem. The second half has a very different feel, as nature and the White Whale turn the tables to triumph over Ahab. The final image is of the captain and his men quite literally thrown across the stage on their stomachs, while the whale stands triumphantly over them in the glow of several spotlights. 

    James Wilton’s style is a breathtakingly physical combination of contemporary dance and martial arts-inspired movement. The power struggles portrayed in Leviathan lend themselves to it perfectly, as partner work combines combat and cooperation with exhilarating effect. In one duet, Ahab and one of his crew perform whilst restrictively clasping each other’s wrists; another section sees the crew forced to revolve around their captain at increasing speed. 

    One-handed cartwheels, flips, shoulder balances and swan dives from the wings abound, but these feats of agility and strength aren’t just jaw-droppingly impressive—they also aid the telling of the story.

    Leviathan is a powerful, meaningful and unique piece of contemporary dance that should be recommended viewing for dance and non-dance fans alike.

  • LEVIATHAN Review- Quiet Man Dave from Contact Manchester

    Leviathan from James Wilton Dance at Contact, Manchester is a stunning piece of dance, based around a Brazilian martial art form, capoeira, and inspired by Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick.  There’s a great Guardian article here to explain the technique.  Perhaps the most important is that movements involve floor contact with both feet and hands, and includes elements of both competition and assistance.  I’m not sure you need to know the novel to appreciate the dance.

    Performed by one female and five male dancers, the performance is split into seven very distinct sections, with two clear scenarios.  One, the relationship between the men, flows through competition and killing, isolation, collaboration, despair and the chase, using the very physical and combative dance moves.  The other, nature, highlights the beauty and wildness of the whale through flowing, beautiful movement.  There is a clear theme, that man’s relationship with nature has always been, and will always be, fragile.

    Throughout, the production is backed by perfectly selected music from Lunatic Soul, ranging from evocative otherworldly soundscapes to powerful bass/keyboard combinations.  Without words, dance must communicate through emotion and the interrelationship between music and movement is what makes this production so strong.

    Beautiful to watch, a perfectly matched sound track, with fascinating themes of masculinity and our relationship with nature.

    Leviathan was at Contact, Manchester from 16-17 May 2017.

  • Last Man Standing Review, Edinburgh Fringe, by Cloud Dance Festival

    For some time, every prize and award in contemporary dance seemed to be earmarked for James Wilton, until he relocated to Austria to work with Oper Graz, and since then, he has been developing his practice with commissions and teaching and continuing to create work for his company of which Last Man Standing, commissioned by Dance City, is the most recent.

     Having developed a name for himself by creating highly physical work which blends contemporary dance, martial arts, acrobatics and capoeira, accompanied by loud rock music, Last Man Standing sees James Wilton adapt his style to dance theatre, by exploring the story of Orpheus & Eurydice, and influenced by Terry Pratchett - not something you'll often see in a dance show's programme notes!

    Last Man Standing is normally presented with an interval, which helps to segregate the piece's two halves more clearly, but as the Edinburgh Fringe doesn't do intervals, the first half quickly segues into the second, which is not as satisfying. The first half is vintage James Wilton; while the storyline is hinted at occasionally in the first half, gravity is a key feature of Wilton's choreography, with a mixture of lifts, jumps, leaps, falls and tumbling, seamlessly flowing between each. But the work is not always fast-paced: James Wilton knows when to reduce the pace, to let the tension and story unfold, and he handles these changes in dynamic skilfully, while the intensity of the (prog alt) rock music fuels the choreography with its energy, or emphasises the relative calmness of what's taking place on stage.

    The second half of Last Man Standing focuses more on the narrative of Orpheus & Eurydice, with the movement now accompanied by a sense of story: for example, James Wilton's definition of purgatory is of dancers forever doomed to repeat the same movement.

    While there are few of the choreographic pyrotechnics of the first half, it is interesting to see how Wilton adapts his style to narrative, which also proves that there's more to his work than the thrilling jumps, lifts and tumbling which he's known for.

    In an Edinburgh Fringe which has largely shied away from dance-heavy shows, Last Man Standing has been so very rewarding to watch.

  • Last Man Standing Review at Edinburgh Fringe, London

    By Rachel Elderkin

    From the moment Last Man Standing bursts onto the stage with its physically powerful, fast-paced choreography, it barely pauses for breath. The dancers dive and fly around the space, leaping across each other’s bodies with moves that test their trust and timing. James Wilton has been touring this work since 2014 and this experience shows in the assurance of the dancers as they run headlong through his challenging choreography.

    Based on Terry Pratchett’s novel The Last Hero and the Greek myth ofOrpheus and EurydiceLast Man Standing explores the will to survive and it is this theme which leaves the strongest impression in what is otherwise an abstract work. Driven by a heavy guitar soundtrack Wilton’s movement tests its dancers’ stamina, pushing them to exhaustion until just one is left standing. It’s a pattern that repeats as the piece moves between scenes, interspersed with the occasional duet. These duets allow for a break in the onslaught of movement but among their close contact work there remains a vying for control, the same individualistic sense of survival.

    There is no doubting the strength of the dancers or choreography, but as Last Man Standing ploughs steadfastly along it begins to feel somewhat self-indulgent; impressive movement danced for the sake of making an impact. It redeems itself in its rather beautiful closing solo, danced by Sarah Jane Taylor. Slowly she peels herself off the floor, like a broken creature regaining its body. Granted, the movement builds again, returning to Wilton’s highly physical style, but it’s a moment that adds meaning to the surrounding choreography. It leaves a lasting image that resounds throughout the piece; an image of our instinctive will to survive. 

  • Last Man Standing Review, 5 Stars, Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

    The fragility of humanity, life, time and love are explored through the bodies of six dancers carrying out a poignant, stark choreography. The movements are sleek and precise and the teamwork truly phenomenal.

    Perhaps more thought could be given to costumes, but this small detail stops mattering as the macabre interpretation of Orpheus and Eurydice’s tragic love story unfolds on stage. The intense performance oscillates between chaos and silence, and has the audience captivated from the get go.

    The progressive rock by ‘Tool”, thumping through the theatre, may not be for everyone, certainly don’t bring your grandma, however the experience is truly exhilarating. This is definitely a unique dance company, constantly pushing the limits.

    A beautiful performance and an intense pre-lunch mind workout, Last Man Standing is a must see for dance enthusiasts.

    Words: Elena Sorokina

  • Last Man Standing Review, 4.5 ticks from Tick It

    A breathtaking evening by one of Britain’s most in-demand dance companies. James Wilton’s distinctive movement style is raw, powerful and dynamic. Influenced by martial arts, breakdance and capoeira: high-energy episodes are juxtaposed with meaningful moments of calm and reflection. Featuring six dancers with exceptional physical skill, Last Man Standing explores the fragility of human existence. The dancers use their full arsenal of throws, lifts and slides in a determined fight to survive. 

  • Last Man Standing Review, Edinburgh Fringe 2015. 4 Stars.

    For those who like their dance without frills, Last Man Standing provides an hour of unrelenting raw movement. This work is another gem from James Wilton’s increasingly impressive repertoire of exhilarating dances. Influenced by his enthusiasm for the writings of Terry Pratchett, the piece is related to The Last Hero and the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, but this is not strict narrative dance: the framework allows for interpretation and the focus is clearly on movement, as it explores ‘the fragility of human existence, and the desire to survive’. Last Man Standing was originally performed in two acts: the first, ‘Life” with three scenes entitled DecayThe Finite Nature Of Time andMortal Coil followed by a five scene second act “Death” consisting ofThe River Styx, Sands Of Time, Hell, Kairos and Return. For the Festival Fringe the two run without interruption. This perpetuum mobile adds to the intensity of the piece and flow of seemingly endless energy. Music from American progressive metal band Tool provides another driving force in this work. Patrick Donovan refers to the group as "the thinking person's metal band... and a tangle of contradictions”, describing the style as “cerebral and visceral, soft and heavy, melodic and abrasive, tender and brutal, familiar and strange, western and eastern, beautiful and ugly, taut yet sprawling and epic." The same could be said for the dance.

    As the smoke wafts across the stage and the complex action commences, the feel of an underworld is enhanced by Mario Ilsanker’s brooding lighting with interruptions from banks of startling white. James Wilton’s style draws on many sources, some of them he admits to being “quite un-dance like”. They are all recognisable but sometimes only in flashes, as he has them tightly interwoven. Hence we see a trio engaged in grovelling acrobatic rotations, strokes of martial arts, throws, lifts, rolls, slides, break-dancing and the influential capoeira. There are also softer moments, particularly centred around the Eurydice figure, but even she becomes embroiled in frantic arm twistings with the man marking time in a recurring pendulum motif. There is also excellent use of the stage area, particularly in a pursuit sequence of diagonals that reaches into its extremities.

    James Wilton Dance presents a well-structured production that is both earthy and other-worldly, in a harmonious blend of sound, light, music and movement. Like Orpheus, you will find looking back on its beauty irresistible.
  • Last Man Standing Review, The Performance Centre Falmouth, Lee Trewhela

    I BET everyone leaving Studio B at Falmouth Uni's impressive Performance Centre on Saturday felt exhausted.

    Not only had we witnessed the most physical of contemporary dance companies, but our senses were pummelled by thinking man's progressive metal band, Tool, whose songs soundtracked the show.

    James Wilton may still be based in Bodmin but he's a young man going places in the dance world and is already internationally respected. Last Man Standing, which is on a UK tour, "explores the fragile nature of existence and the will to survive".

    The end result was a tormented and dark piece, exacerbated by the powerful but dystopian sound of Tool.

    The stark yet effective lighting by Mario Ilsanker was as much a performer as James and his fellow dancers.

    The choreographer is as influenced by kickboxing and martial arts as he is traditional forms of dance, so the first half was an exhilarating example of how far the human form can be pushed. The second half was repetitive though and played into the hands of detractors who find the world of contemporary dance impenetrable and pretentious. Overall, Last Man Standing was a stunning display and one that is just the beginning for James.


  • Last Man Standing Review, The Lowry, Clive K Hammond

    By Clive K Hammond Rating: 4 out of 5 

    Science fiction and heavy metal music have always seemed approving of one another, so much so that in 1981 a Canadian fantasy film was released with the same title as the genre.

    To some, this should only be a two-part cocktail of cyborg imagery and thrashing guitars. 

    However, contemporary dance enthusiast and influential choreographer James Wilton has brought a new brand of rhythm to proceedings with his new production ‘Last Man Standing’ at The Lowry Theatre, Salford on Thursday 15 May. 

    Centred around author Terry Prachett’s 2001 novel The Last Hero, the former London Contemporary Dance School student – whose work has already gone on to decorate major events including the opening of the Rugby League World Cup at Wembley Stadium in 2013 – immediately set the scene as the theatre space was crowded with smoke and bright white lights. 

    A woman enters. 

    Then falls, but rises. 

    She then falls again. 

    Save your breath, it may be your last. 

    An underlying theme throughout, the resilient attitudes of all the characters was personified within the pieces opening wrenching moments. 

    As the music – composed and performed by American hard rockers Tool – grew to a harsh level of noise, the rest of the six strong ensemble joined and an almighty, yet controlled, battle commenced. 

    The scenes witnessed saw performers duck, dive, riggle and pounce to recreate the rumbling scenes within ‘The Last Hero’. 

    Wilton’s vision of balancing the art of movement with the intensity of the marital arts was key throughout his direction as glimpses of all-out war descended into moments of flickering life. 

    Save your breath, it may be your last. 

    A philosophy embraced within moments directly after combat, the female character would continually lean upon her male counterpart as her flimsy body would sweep like leaves in the wind. 

    Standout performances were in abundance with Sarah Jane Taylor and Adam Gain commanding in both lead and supporting roles. 

    But praise must land with Wilton who has produced an unequivocal blend which would have even the shadiest of dance aficionado engaged. 

    So forget the jazz, it’s time for heavy metal hands.