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Northern Ballet: 1984 – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Choreographer: Jonathan Watkins

Composer: Alex Baranowski

Set &Costume Designer: Simon Daw

Lighting Designer: Chris Davey

Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding

Dramaturg: Ruth Little

Reviewer: Peter Gray

Northern Ballet’s World Premiere of 1984 is an impressive reimagined interpretation of the Orwellian classic, published in 1949. Guest choreographer, Jonathan Watkins, succeeds in exploring the novel’s powerful ideas through an innovative, eclectic mix of enthralling dance and well-chosen theatre production elements. This ambitious initiative is believed to be the first time that 1984 has made the leap into dance-theatre to express the book’s thought-provoking and time-transcending themes, all the more pertinent in the surveillance culture of the early 21st Century.

The dance is technically impressive throughout, communicating effectively on many levels, and is engaging to experience. Integral to this visual feast, and adding much to the overall effect, is the superb musical score intricately woven together by Alex Baranowski. The rich musical dynamic which he and the live orchestra provides, enables both dancers and audience to enter fully into the pervading atmosphere and zeitgeist, and into the nuances of the themes, thoughts, emotion and physicality of the performance. The audience is taken on a total theatre roller-coaster ride from dark and disturbing to a remote place of love and hope, and back again. The juxtaposition and portrayal of the ‘Prôles’ comparative freedom through rhythmic differences, coloured costume and set is a typical example of how the challenge of conveying meaning and also driving the narrative is accomplished successfully throughout the ballet.

Reflections of strict ballet forms fused with mechanised movements, reminiscent of Etienne Decroux’s L’Usine [The Factory] (1939), lend themselves to various engaging representations of the struggle of submerged humanity in the process of being dominated by the omniscient control of ‘Big Brother’. Each section of the piece brings its own surprises, and the pace of the narrative is developed effectively. Clarity of meaning communicated well, maintaining and building a certain momentum towards the total submission of will.

Principal dancers, Tobias Bolt and Martha Leebolt bring a tremendous climactic performance to the high point in their relationship to end Act 1, with sheer physical beauty and an entrancing dynamic flow of emotion evident in the pas de deux as they take their first tentative steps towards a growing abandonment. This accentuates the rhythmic contrast between the constrained, systematised movement quality of the automaton party members and Winston and Julia’s rebellion into their newly found freedom to love with explosive passion and tender sensuality.

Already known for the exceptional quality of its narrative ballets, this performance signals a further landmark in the Company’s successful history. Of particular note is Andrzej Goulding’s innovative use of technology as integral to the set, and it is indeed essential to the story content. The permeating presence of two-way pixelated screens and the large, imposing televised eyes of ‘Big Brother’ are dominant forms, adding special impact to the overall performance. Significant contributors to the effectiveness of the performance were Chris Davey’s responsive lighting states and Simon Daw’s interesting set design, both of which are key to creating charged atmospheres and the suggestion of place as appropriate. Northern Ballet’s production of1984 is a must-see show.

Runs Until: 12 September 2015

Photo: Guy Farrow

Choreographer: Jonathan Watkins Composer: Alex Baranowski Set &Costume Designer: Simon Daw Lighting Designer: Chris Davey Video Designer: Andrzej Goulding Dramaturg: Ruth Little Reviewer: Peter Gray Northern Ballet’s World Premiere of 1984 is an impressive reimagined interpretation of the Orwellian classic, published in 1949. Guest choreographer, Jonathan Watkins, succeeds in exploring the novel’s powerful ideas through an innovative, eclectic mix of enthralling dance and well-chosen theatre production elements. This ambitious initiative is believed to be the first time that 1984 has made the leap into dance-theatre to express the book’s thought-provoking and time-transcending themes, all the more pertinent in the surveillance…

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

One comment

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    An excellent written and considered review. Writing about dance is a real skill. Phil Lowe