1984 – a contemporary ballet

Northern Ballet bring 1984 to the Palace Theatre in Manchester.  I saw this production in rehearsal back in August, at the Northern Ballet space in Leeds, and the choreography, music, costumes and staging all looked innovative and impressive.  The ballet is ‘99% neoclassical’ – whilst rooted in classical ballet, it is strongly adapted with innovative choreography that pushes the boundaries of dance.

How do you turn a book like 1984 into a ballet?  Unlike theatre where this can be done with the words, ballet relies on movement and technical effects.    But with the building blocks of the narrative in place, dance provides a powerful emotional vehicle to get the most out of George Orwell’s work, which appears as relevant today as when it was written in 1948.

The quality of dance is astonishing.  Throughout, it is subtle, character driven and powerful.  No more so than in the duets, especially when O’Brien is torturing Winston Smith, or in the love scene in the woods between Winston and Julia; small touches like a single look backwards cement these scenes in the memory. It is no surprise that Northern Ballet has been described as ‘a Company that boasts the best dance-actors in the world.’
(Dance Europe).  The non-dance movement and acting is superb.

The live orchestra play a lovely live score composed specifically for the performance by Alex Baranowski – again, subtle and powerful.  A huge video screen looms large over the stage, and combines well with smaller screens and well designed lighting to create each scene.

IMG_6886But it is the quality of dancing that ultimately makes this performance what it is.  The choreography by Jonathan Watkins is innovative and supports the story beautifully.  Dressed in mainly plain blue ‘party’ outfits, the cast create the world of Winston Smith and Big Brother, and the contradictions of that society.  The underclass (the proles) are represented by brighter rust coloured clothes, and offer Winston a glance into another, in his eyes better, world.

Powerful and moving.  A story for our times by a company that produces stunning contemporary work.

In Manchester until 17 October then touring.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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