• 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. 


  • Last Man Standing Review, The Lowry, Robert Beale

    It was a one-night-only and the last night of a tour, so perhaps no one’s interested in an assessment of Last Man Standing now, but James Wilton Dance Company is at least worth noticing. James is a man of the moment in contemporary dance, and he has a company of remarkable ability to show his work off, most of them (as he is) ex London Contemporary Dance School.

    You have to admire the breathtaking virtuosity and split-second synchronisation of the movement in this work. I don’t think I’ve seen such precision and perfection in a contemporary ensemble, and even the world’s best classical companies rarely approach this level of physical discipline.

    The theme is the end of life (first part) and the nature of death (second): it’s hugely energetic and explosive, which is unexpected given the subject matter but riveting to watch. I’m not sure I got the point of what was apparently going on (except for the tick-tock movement to show the passing of time), but greatly admired the duet by James and Sarah Jane Taylor (his frequent collaborator) near the end of part one, and her long, amazingly supple solo that ends part two.

    Reviewer: Robert Beale

  • Last Man Standing Review, The Lowry, Peter Jacobs

    James Wilton is an emerging choreographer and a rising star on the British dance scene and internationally. His company has existed for around four years and he is still well within his own dance career. His choreography, which is refreshingly stripped of classical notes, blends innovative modern physicality with influences from martial arts, capoeira and break dancing.

    Last Man Standing is a show ambitious in content that integrates its net of influences into a fine web of powerfully focused directness and simplicity. The work explores ‘the fragile nature of existence and the will to survive’, and draws ideas from Terry Pratchett’s The Last Hero and the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, but pulls these narrative strands in without resorting to storytelling. Instead, Wilton relies on the communicative power of dance to establish his narrative.

    Wilton himself is a dancer of brooding intensity, in this work at least. His company impress. Adam Gain and Sarah Jane Taylor loosely form the Orpheus and Eurydice element; Gain subtly manipulating time with his pendulum movements that draw Taylor from her physical isolation into furious arm battles of seductive complexity. The show ends unexpectedly with a prolonged solo from Taylor that is mesmerising and physically demanding. The rest of the company establish their presence strongly. Michael Kelland, Harlan Rust and Naomi Tadevossian are given space to perform individual and group choreography that punctuates and drives the emotional and physical momentum.

    The entire company perform with that appealingly intense introversion that drives all their emotional energy into physical expression. When they look at each other it is with the knowledge that their connectedness is linked inextricably to the impossibility of connection. This is a major theme within the work. The choreography is highly connective and full of slight touches and full-weight hurls into one another’s arms, but drawing from the capoeira influence, which is all about not connecting, much of the movement intricately links the dancers but explores the inability to actually connect. Touch is evaded, elusive, unacknowledged. An aggregation of failed attempts to breach the emotional and physical boundaries of the self. Wilton also makes impactful use of stillness and silence, even within the noise.

    Last Man Standing is entirely choreographed to the progressive alternative metal of US rock band Tool. This provides an unexpectedly rich soundscape of ambient noise, experimentation and occasionally full rock. Wilton has responded to this with impressive musicality, reflecting and sometimes rejecting the meandering and intermittently explosive complexity of the music.

    Mario Ilsanker’s effective lighting design creates an intensely moody world on the stark stage. Deep pools of light are created from above but most of the lighting comes from banks of sidelights that alternately create darkness and unrelenting white dazzle through a continuous haze: a world of shadow. This simultaneously creates a sense of the underworld but also of exhausted human isolation that reflects the impossibly of connection within the choreography.

    Wilton makes full use of the space, bringing dancers right to the front and corners of the thrust stage, which gives the work a strong sense of scale, presence and immediacy in contrast to the intimate psychology of the movement. Last Man Standing feels like a bold, fresh, innovative, modern piece of work with real intent and ambition. This makes him a welcome addition to British dance. More please.

    Reviewed on 15th May 2014

  • Last Man Standing Review, Blackpool Grand, Gareth Gratix

    On Tuesday 8 April, The Grand Theatre was bombarded by one of its most formidable showcases of contemporary dance to date.

    Last Man Standing was a powerful and emotive experience interweaving fragility with strength, contraband against honesty and life versus death. An attack on the senses through incredible complexities of physical movement and partnership working amongst the ensemble made for moments of feeling humiliated, beaten and defenceless, whilst simultaneously presenting you with a sense of protection, rejuvenation and self worth; an all encompassing metaphor for existence.

    I found myself searching for questions to my own personal anxieties, curiosities and behaviours as I was shown on stage that we are never fully in control of one another or ourselves and we must believe in our environments and whatever supports or decay these bring to our personal growth as human beings. At times we decide and at times we are dictated to; it is trust that guides through turmoil in order to savour happiness and experience contentment.

    emotional discourse

    James Wilton is showing himself as one of the UK’s great masterminds of physical movement and exploration; challenging those that work with him and those who in turn have the pleasure of watching. His choreography opens up emotional discourse surrounding elements of psychoanalysis combined with internal and external calm to continue en route to salvation. The salvation being anything as large as conquering world peace but equally as significant would be to conquer yourself.

    We rarely see such togetherness and synchronisation in dance; lets face it, it isn’t easy to mimic and replicate another person’s movement to the nail, but throughout the performance of Last Man Standing, it was rare to see a toe out of place. A wonderful mirroring through dance leading into self reflection and contemplation to shine back onto the audience.

    A stand out solo performance from Sarah Jane Taylor was mesmerising, intense and heavily real in it’s trajectory to an open jawed audience, who felt every inhale/exhale, to every twitch in the finger through to the disjointed mysticism served to a mind no longer in control of the body. This new born figure on stage made us privy to a publicly private scenario indulgent in childlike fear and playfulness as the body attempted to connect to the mind and establish its identity. Supporting her on a mission to literally find her footing in the world she found herself reborn into on stage, was an experience that demanded attention and humility.

    gasp for breath

    Fluidity of transitions sent the audience on a roller-coaster of life experience, which, when contrasted against the density of the music composed by Tool, brought a wonderful sense of weighted air to the piece as a poetic oxymoron. That gasp for breath, the pause in speech; a moment of loud silence filled the theatre.

    Sitting in awe of dancers’ effortless breath into their movements and simply complex interactions, I found myself being whispered to by an unexpected audience member. She said, “I wasn’t even sure what I was coming to see, but its incredible.” A perfect reaction from a spectator who would be out of scope in terms of generic audiences to such a performance. “I felt like I was being carried whilst also carrying them,” was a beautiful response from a resident of Blackpool.

    Last Man Standing reached everyone in the theatre on some level, which is a true credit to the remarkable skill, poise, grit and beauty that James Wilton emoted through the piece and invoked into his audience.  James Wilton presented us with an alternative umbilical cord from which to feed and reflect upon life, whilst being directly reborn into it.

    minds and myths

    The Grand Theatre’s calibre of events of late are propelling Blackpool’s cultural venues back into world class status; presenting surprise wonderment, critical discussion and longevity from stage to community and back again. Showcases by talent such as James Wilton Dance bring sustained cultural inprinting into the minds of Blackpool residents and tourist alike, strengthening long-term cultural economy for Blackpool. The Grand, aka the new risk taker, is challenging the minds and myths of a trodden coastal resort as part of a highly competitive and considered programme. Goodbye cultural inertia, hello extravaganza.

    Last Man Standing’s cherry on the cake was its workshop and performance programme as a whole with several masterclasses scheduled for local community and dance groups including Urban Dance Project CIC and a fantastic performance on the Comedy Carpet by Fylde Coast Youth Dance Company, choreographed by James in partnership with this talented young members of the company.

    This exuberantly expressive performance (prior to the main showcase in the evening) was a prime example of exploring life, from the seed, through to the bud, through to a flower. Not to mention I’m a sucker for smiley faces and flourescent costume. This aside, the performance showed great maturity and professionalism by talented Blackpool dancers.

    Future performances of Last Man Standing include The Robin Howard Theatre at The Place, London, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds, and The Lowry, Manchester to name but a few.

    You can find more out about James Wilton Dance on the website. Or follow the company on Facebook. Last Man Standing is a commissioned piece by Dance City with support from Falmouth University, Plymouth Dance and Art Council England, Grants for the Arts.

    Garth Gratix


  • James Wilton Dance Last Man Standing Review, Blackpool Grand Theatre, David Upton

    Last Man Standing

    Just when you might reasonably have assumed it had all been ‘said’, as far as modern dance innovation is concerned, along comes a choreographer like James Wilton.

    Still pretty well fresh from graduating from London Contemporary Dance School, in 2010, you might have expected him to still be making his name as a dancer, let alone become one of the country’s rising young choreography stars.

    Naturally there’s a limit to just how many of them become household names, but on this totally absorbing showing of his latest work Wilton’s is, at this stage, a name to remember.

    Last Man Standing is a suite of eight dances for six performers—including its choreographer—ranged over two 35-minute acts. The theme is the fragile nature of existence and draws some influence from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

    All of which may well be the case... but what is in no doubt is that it delivers a stunning visual and aural experience in its enthralling montage of modern dance.

    It uses a vast language of choreography, involving the now-standard repertoire from break dancing and martial arts moves, but blends it all into a seamless production that returns again and again to the idea of human interdependence.

    It uses the musical scope of American heavy rock band Tool to drive its narrative, and that is not all quite as pomp-rock obsessed as it may sound. There are quieter Eastern-influenced sections and one prolonged moment of absolute silence in which Sarah Jane Taylor folds her body into and out of intricate shaping.

    There’s even a repeated, and maybe unwitting, quenelle-like gesture—the kind that gets Premiership footballers sent off—before it develops into an arm-whirling dervish display.

    An exquisite yet simple lighting design, by Mario Ilsanker, heightens the experience of a thoroughly-entertaining performance—and at odd moments even highlights the ornate rococo stage surrounds of this most elegant of theatres.

    The venue is working hard to establish its dance centre credentials for the region and appreciative and gradually-growing audiences are getting used to being spoiled by work like this.