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“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthy thing is it; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time, recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare?” (Moby Dick, by Herman Melville)
Image: A. Karpowicz

Herman Melville’s classic novel is based around Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick, a huge white whale that tore off his leg in a previous voyage. Stomping about the ship and enchanting the crew with his desire for vengeance, Ahab’s compulsion against his nemesis blinds him to the point where he is prepared to sacrifice his own life and that of his crew abroad the ‘Pequod’. Told through the eyes of the ship’s only survivor, Ishmael, this story is a compelling and daunting adventure considered to be one of the greatest novels of American 19th-century literature.

A homage to Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby Dick, Living Structures’ Leviathan takes its audience through an adventurous journey involving spatial transformation, large scale installation, physical theatre, polyphonic music and original soundscape.

Investing in striking moments of the story, Living Structures approaches the telling of this tale inspired by the monochrome colours, geometric shapes and architectural functionality of Russian Constructivism.

Constructivism stands at the origin of abstract art and rejects traditional forms of representation. It creates a new pictorial language in which complex and multifaceted natural shapes are translated into patterns often consisting of absolute geometrical forms such as circles, triangles, squares and basic solid colours. The geometrical form, the clearly defined, that which is reproducible and controlled by human logic, stands in opposition to the unknown and formless.

These concerns resonated enormously with our wish to abstract the
text in the novel, to translate it into a performance that utilized concrete elements of spatial transformation, manipulating volume, mass, colour, rhythm and physical movement in order to involve audiences on an emotional, haptic and intellectual level. Along with Constructivism, Biomechanics and Theatre of the Bauhaus also became major aesthetic inspirations for our work.

Moby Dick is an ungraspable, formless and indefinable phantom that takes shape only in the imagination of each individual. In many ways, by embodying the formless, uncanny and supernatural, the creature stands in opposition to its pursuer, ‘Captain Ahab’, who can be seen to represent a modern scientific approach that aims to disenchant nature to a point that it no longer fills us with wonder or terror.

The set’s different levels (the ditch, the surrounding stage and adjacent platforms) correspond to the physical and metaphysical voyage of the Pequod, the whaleboat that Melville describes in Moby Dick. Above, the ship or land; below, the depth of the sea and its various connotations. Shifting the audience’s position naturally also leads to different viewing experiences, often acting as an allegory for different views of the world, some more rational (frontal/clear) others more emotional or sensorial (immersive/chaotic).

The music created for Leviathan explores the themes of obsession, oppression and loss present throughout ‘Moby Dick’. Inspired by Russian choral music, dissonant polyphony, body percussion, and using improvised sound with strict and repeated ostinato’s, kinesthetic sound worlds are devised to conjuror the bleak experience of the lives of the crew aboard the ‘Pequod’; providing an evocative thread throughout the show working in an abstract symbiosis with the strict geometry of the constructivist visual environment.

 Using cello and A Capella to provide a musical spine, the varying voices and thick harmonies aim to push and pull at the audience being at once relentless and comforting whilst the tonal similarities of the instrument and the human voice creates a haunting and emotive quality, surrounding the audience, threatening them with a sad, impending doom as we all drown together.

Living Structures’ approach to storytelling aims to engross the audience in an emotive and physical experience, rather than just conveying a narrative. In Leviathan, ‘changing spatial reality’ is used as a tool to convey a physical and emotional journey and becomes a key to enter into a world where elements clearly referencing Melville’s novel coexist with other more loose translations of Moby Dick into visuals, sounds, movements, objects, landscapes and sequences.

In this piece the company aimed to transcend naturalistic and literal readings of the text and to embrace in a more abstract and visual way some of the complex and deeply existential themes that excite and move us the most in Melville’s story; the universal struggle of man against the irrational, against one’s own strength and weakness, or even of man against nature itself…