Martin Hylton at Lion Salt Works

Salt was part of the A&H Meeting Point programme and presented at Lion Salt Works in the North West from 2017 - 2018.

The project

Lion Salt Works looked for an artist to respond to its scheduled monument. The ambition was for the commission to draw upon an aspect of the Salt Work’s history and offer an additional level of interpretation at the site by highlighting and exploring one, or several, key features. The hope was that this commission would offer visitors a deeper understanding of the site and its history.

As a scheduled monument, there were certain constraints on what could be done within the spaces of Lion Salt Works. Any physical intervention at the site needed to be in consultation with conservation specialists. The museum were open to negotiation about what could be commissioned, but noted that artists would need to be willing to work with staff at the Salt Works, conservation experts and within health and safety guidance.

The artist would have access to the museum and its archive information in order to inform any work.

Key objectives of the project were:

  • Raise the profile of the site within the locality
  • Engage museum staff and volunteers in commissioning process
  • Build and develop the programming team’s expertise in commissioning contemporary art.

The proposal

“My interest in the Salt Works is based on the people who worked there and the many stories associated with the region and its heritage in salt production. […] I would like to create a production of a work that explores the physicality of the salt mines’ workers through the physicality of dance theatre, whilst sharing some of the stories. These stories would not only show the hardship of the environment but also the hierarchy of society at the time.” – an extract from Martin Hylton’s original proposal


Salt was a fully immersive dance piece, presented in 360° virtual reality, reflecting the gruelling work that was involved in producing salt at the UK’s only remaining open-pan salt works. Salt gave visitors the chance to step into the artwork for a truly unique experience. Visitors to the exhibition were provided with a virtual reality headset to view the dance piece, which was set inside a salt pan. Dancing in water, representing the brine used in the salt making process, dancers captured the physicality of the manufacturing process and brought the Lion Salt Works’ unique heritage to life.

Choreographer Martin Hylton said:

“Looking at the archive material at Lion Salt Works, I was really struck by the movement and physical, hard work involved in claiming the salt from the pans. The process the workers went through really lends itself to choreography and dance; the laboured and heavy movement involved in scrapping the salt.

The piece I’ve created reflects that hard, physical work and by filming it in 360° virtual reality, the viewer can be completely immersed in the moment. People will get a sense of what it would have been like to work in the factory.”


  • 25 children and young people attended workshops
  • 150 people, including performers, participated in an event in December 2017
  • Over 1,900 people attended SALT
  • Working with young people helped to bring in the local community to the venue
  • Staff feel more confident in commissioning work, working with artists and other council teams and are keen to commission work in future to enhance the programmes and themes
  • Young people taking part in workshops also benefitted from careers advice from Martin Hylton.

“Martin’s innovative ideas around dance and use of new technology make this a very exciting commission. It’s helping to push the boundaries of choreography and transform what we think of a traditional museum experience.” – Timandra Nichols, Arts&Heritage

About the Artist

Martin Hylton began dancing at the age of nine joining Harehills Youth dance Group under the direction of Nadine Senior MBE. He then went on to train at Northern School of Contemporary Dance and in 1998 was named the C&A Cosmopolitan young dancer of the year. After graduating from the NSCD he joined Nye Carte Blanche Dance Company in Bergen Norway. This was the beginning of a special relationship with Scandinavia as Martin went on to work and perform with companies such as Skanes Dance Theatre, Malmo, Sweden and Mari Brilin Tani in Arhus Denmark. He also worked with various Scandinavian choreographers such as Ina Christel Johannesen, Solvi Edvarsen and Kjesti Alverberg.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Arts, Business and Creativity and is a Clore Fellow having completed the Clore Leadership Programme in 2012. Through the Clore Leadership Programme and his extensive experience in the dance industry, Martin founded Gateway Studio Project in 2012 in Gateshead. Gateway Studio Project offers a wide community dance programme whilst supporting local professional artists.

Martin joins Phoenix Dance Theatre in January 2020 on secondment from Gateway Studio Project and will be responsible for overseeing all studio activity.

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