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Northern Ballet: 1984 – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Music: Alex Baranowski

Choreographer: Jonathan Watkins

Reviewer: Sheila Stratford

George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 has been skillfully adapted by choreographer Jonathan Watkins for Northern Ballet. Set to an original score by Tony-nominated composer and arranger Alex Baranowski, it is performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia.

In 1984, political party doctrine demands total conformity. Big Brother’s centralised and constant surveillance is menacing with a loss of privacy for the population. Ministry of Truth worker Winston Smith (Tobias Batley) dares to defy Big Brother by secretly recording his thoughts in a diary. One day, fellow worker Julia (Martha Leebolt) who he suspects of spying on him drops him a love note and the couple arrange to meet.

They have a secret love affair, going against the strict discipline of the party. The couple believes they have met other dissidents, only to discover their every action has been recorded with terrible consequences.

The rigid conformity of the Ministry of Truth is conveyed in the repetitive, mechanical movements of the dance and music. The costumes are dull and grey, the faces conveying no emotion while a large pixelated video screen with menacing eyes looks down. Juxtaposed to this, are Winston’s beautifully fluid movements, performed when he thinks he is alone and not being observed. The passionate and free expression of emotion as Winston and Julia dance together is superb. Jonathan Watkins has choreographed simple, secretive and tentative gestures for Winston and Julia when they are with their co­workers. They are sensitively performed and engendering a persistent sense of anxiety.

The music, movements and costumes of the ‘prôles ‘ – who Big Brother considers are not important enough to be monitored – are in stark contrast to those worn by the Ministry of Truth. They are less angular; although still retain a sense of uniformity.

Video Designer Andrzej Goulding has created first-rate video art with constant moving graphics and powerful images, particularly in the torture Room 101.The subtle lighting design by Chris Davey allows the dancers to ominously appear and disappear.

All these elements add up to an excellent production. Some background knowledge of the narrative to 1984 is useful to fully appreciate this interpretation. Northern Ballet’s 1984 is a performance not to be missed.

Runs until 24 Oct 2015 | Image: Emma-Kauldhar

Music: Alex Baranowski Choreographer: Jonathan Watkins Reviewer: Sheila Stratford George Orwell's classic novel 1984 has been skillfully adapted by choreographer Jonathan Watkins for Northern Ballet. Set to an original score by Tony-nominated composer and arranger Alex Baranowski, it is performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia. In 1984, political party doctrine demands total conformity. Big Brother's centralised and constant surveillance is menacing with a loss of privacy for the population. Ministry of Truth worker Winston Smith (Tobias Batley) dares to defy Big Brother by secretly recording his thoughts in a diary. One day, fellow worker Julia (Martha Leebolt) who he suspects…

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