Northern Ballet’s 1984 @ the West Yorkshire Playhouse

By September 8, 2015

Theatre & Dance. Leeds.


Photo: Guy Farrow

Choreographer and director Jonathan Watkins brings George Orwell’s 1984 leaping and dancing into the twenty first century with his gripping take on the dystopian classic. Tackling this much loved novel was a challenge but one that Watkins has dreamt of since the age of fifteen.

The timid protagonist, Winston Smith is living in a totalitarian future, a world of misery and pain where everyone is kept under the piercing eyes of Big Brother as he and Julia live a secret life of passion and love hidden away from the torments of the world or so they think.

The LED screen hanging at the back of the set with the omniscient eyes of Big Brother watching over not just the company but the audience themselves whilst periodically blinking reminds all that Big Brother is always watching you and is a chilling representation that nothing is private no matter how much you believe no one is watching.

The robotic, repetitive choreography when inside the ministry of truth and the rigid, dividing squares of light by Chris Davey made one witness what the world would become if under such tyrannical rule. This was displayed excellently by all the company with precision timing and style.

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Photo: Guy Farrow

One of the most memorable features of the novel is the two minute hate when all are ordered to screech and jibe at those the ministry has found guilty. All this is done sonically in the novel so how would one depict that through dance without a single hiss of speech? The company fulfilled this with several rich interpretations throughout the production. The choral choreography of the company was ingenious and original displaying the hatred and anger of the workers within the ministry itself.

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Photo: Guy Farrow

The rip roaring, erotic display of affection and desperation of simply wanting to love by principal dancers Tobias Batley (Winston Smith) and Martha Leebolt (Julia) during their meeting in the forest as it had been building up to the crescendo of the first act was a wonder to behold. The spell binding lifts and spins created magical moments of magnificence between the two principals as they and the music reached its pulse inducing conclusion.

The out of sight orchestra pit as it lay under the stage conducted by John Pryce Jones and Orchestra Leader Geoffrey Allan was a joy to behold as the music is but one section of the piece, granted an extremely vital piece but by being out of sight it drew the eye to the action of the dance and created a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art where all the elements of the production were brought together and fitted so well.

The world premiere of Northern Ballet’s production of 1984 is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from the 5th-12th September before it tours the rest of the UK. Watch a trailer for Northern Ballet’s 1984 here.