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.


Cover image by Werner Kmetitsch and Steve Tanner from James Wilton Dance.

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