This show proves that it is possible to really enjoy something without necessarily knowing what the hell’s going on. Advertised as loosely based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, let’s try very loosely based shall we? I would point out that this is another of my favourite books and one that I never tire of boring people with (wake up at the back).
The grace and athleticism that the dancers displayed was quite breath-taking at times, even when ‘just’ rolling across the stage and this really made the show for me. With regard to the ‘narrative’, I felt I could sense what was being driven at, but was rarely entirely sure. The performance was divided into seven chapters, but it was difficult to relate the dancing to their titles. Does one need to be trained in this kind of thing?
Melville’s Ahab is a powerful character and a true leader, despite being whale obsessed to the point of insanity: the vessel Pequod’s crew follow him despite knowing that this means almost certain death. Moby Dick is partly a management and leadership text book. However, this show’s Ahab is not like that; he spends a lot of the show looking bemused while the other dancers whirl around or at him. The book’s Ahab has a whale-bone leg, Moby Dick having bitten off the original, and any dance production needs to deal with this: this is picked up with Ahab favouring and cursing his leg, but this doesn’t quite come off. The production notes I have been given mention Ahab’s charisma, but this Ahab comes across as overly demented, lost and only confident in violence.
I might be mistaken but quite a lot of the first half action seemed to be fighting, with the crew rather than whales. In fact the book’s Pequod is a ship-shaped sanctuary of inter-racial cooperation where gay relationships are not just tolerated but accepted entirely (it’s set in the 19th-century). Ahab leads by force of personality not violence, so what this is about I’m not quite sure? However, it was a vehicle for some quite spectacular dancing and cooperation seemed to break out at the end.
For most of the time a single female dancer played the whale and this was effective, to a point. There seemed to be some love and awe from the Ahab dancer, but there is little love in the book, it’s just hate and the desire for revenge and immortality as the slayer of Moby Dick. Despite brilliant and expressive dancing, a single dancer does not have the stage presence to be the whale, which is a brooding and almost physical presence in the book, aggressive yet controlled and ultimately ruthless. The last chapter saw all but Ahab dressed in white and playing the leviathan. This was effective and brought the performance to a fine conclusion.
I must mention the lighting, which was particularly good. Relying on side and back lighting, with very little front illumination, plus some smoke, a strong atmosphere was created. The music and sound-effects were also well chosen, creating a strong sense of the sea without the need for any scenery and only lengths of rope for props. However, I would say that if one is doing Moby Dick, one really needs harpoons; but that might be me being unsophisticated.
This was an excellent production and I did enjoy it, honest! It must be so difficult to get ideas across (particularly those in Moby Dick) without speech and this was certainly a good try. I admit to being relatively inexperienced in respect to dance and this would make me come back for more.
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