Watching rehearsals for Northern Ballet’s 1984

Watching the two Premier Dancers playing Winston and Julia in the studio at Northern Ballet in Leeds during rehearsals for 1984, I am struck by the precision and detail behind everything they do.  Each move is tailored to tell a small part of the story or to develop a specific emotion in the relationship between Julia and Winston.  Without words, the whole story has to be expressed by movement.

Northern Ballet excels at producing innovative ballets based around their talented company of dance actors.  This ballet version of 1984 is highly narrative and draws strongly from George Orwell’s book.  Many ideas are taken from the theatre; there is a focus on characterisation and ensuring that everyone on stage has a role and knows why they are there.  A dramaturge, Ruth Little,  is involved in the process.

It is a privilege to watch choreographer Jonathan Watkins work closely with Premier Dancers Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt, for whom the roles of Winston and Julia were specifically created.  ‘You get to put a lot of yourself into the role,’ comments Martha. ‘You work on it from scratch and it’s all built around you’, adds Toby. When they work together, the two dancers seem to be able to read each other’s minds.

I had never realised how much work goes into producing a new piece of dance.  The rehearsal lasts one hour.  Five second sequences repeated again and again, trying out small changes in position, holds and moves to create and perfect the right effect.  Then introducing the music – soaring, powerful music composed specially for the ballet by Alex Baranowski – to pull everything together into first one minute segments, then the whole two minute sequence.

1984 comes to the Palace in Manchester from 14 to 17 October 2015 – you may already have seen the theatre decked out in yellow!

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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