The beautiful Leviathan

By Michaela Preiner

Leviathan (Foto: Int. Bühnenwerkstatt Graz)
17th
July 2018
The Internationale Bühnenwerkstatt opened its annual festival with James Wilton Dance Cie’s “Leviathan based on Moby-Dick”, a performance loaded with testosterone and violence, but also plenty of poetry.
Internationally acclaimed and awarded winning British choreographer James Wilton is no stranger to the audiences in Graz. In 2013, he choreographed “Le sacre du printemps” at the Graz Opera. This year he returned with his troop to the Internationale Bühnenwerkstatt und convinced with a performance that allows for multiple interpretations.
On the surface level, the playbill refers to Captain Ahab, the mad captain who tries to get his revenge on the white sperm whale Moby-Dick for biting off his leg. On a deeper level, Wilton visualises the far more universal story of men attempting to subdue and rule over nature until it turns against them. The duality between male and female is another issue that is raised in this production and conveyed by the choreography itself. In her interpretation of “Leviathan”, Sarah Jane Taylor predominantly stays close to the ground with being in a standing position only for short periods of time. Jane’s physical presence is extremely fascinating and one never gets tired of watching this slim and tall performer sliding, slipping, pushing and spinning. Every bone can be traced underneath her nude top which gives the audience a sense of the physically demanding choreography.

In contrast, James Wilton, who also functions as the male protagonist, uses a completely different vocabulary in his performance. Wilton gives the portrayal of a monomaniacal berserker who dominates all other creatures by sheer physical force and willpower. Thereby he draws on the famous image of human evolution from primate to man that is epitomised by the upright walk. This tableau with the title “The march of progress” was made by American painter with Austrian-Polish roots Rudolf Zallinger.

Leviathan (Foto: Int. Bühnenwerkstatt Graz)
Leviathan (Foto: Int. Bühnenwerkstatt Graz)
Wilton dominates the stage from beginning almost to the end. Michael Kelland, Norikazu Aoki, Ihsaan De Banya und Jacob Lang act as animal beings as well as devoted subordinates who follow their leader to the death. Their choreography draws on a variety of influences such as gymnastics, hip-hop, modern dance and martial arts. Powerfully and gripping, the male performers swirl across the dark, empty stage using the forces of push and pull, pressure and counter pressure. They jump and spin, they are tossed, lifted, pulled and pushed to the floor and even perform multiple, horizontal summersaults. Heavy ropes are the only props on stage and in addition to very effective lightning invigorate the mise-en-scene. Light is used to blind the audience for split seconds thus marking a new chapter.

The impressive soundtrack is delivered by Lunatic Soul and is a mixture of singer-songwriter tracks, powerful indie rock and a decent pinch of world music which engulfs the events like a second skin. The floating movements of the legendary leviathan fit to the pristine white trouser suit in which Sarah Jane Taylor dances. The transformation of Ahab’s sailors into similarly beautiful, enigmatic leviathans creates a mesmerising and irresistible flood of images. The demise of the man who believed to be invincible is rendered in an image that mirrors the beginning of the performance. However, this time it is not the peaceful leviathan lying on the ground and producing a massive fountain of water but a defeated Ahab.

Leviathan (Fotos: Int. Bühnenwerkstatt Graz)
On the opening night the audience was delighted and more than once applauded the talented ensemble back on stage. A highly successful kick-off for this year’s summer programme of the Internationale Bühnenwerkstatt.

Leviathan will be performed a second time on 18 July 2018. For more information: http://www.buehnenwerkstatt.at/class/leviathan-based-on-moby-dick/?wcs_timestamp=1531774800

Translation: Elisabeth Knittelfelder

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