Winston Smith, Ballet Dancer

By Anita Coppola

One just might feel a little uneasy, as I did, when taking a seat at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, in anticipation of Northern Ballet’s 1984, which premiered on Saturday the 5th of September. The medium of dance isn’t perhaps the more obvious interpretation of ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’!

The narrative of Nineteen Eighty Four – the totalitarian state, the telescreens, proles, thought police, O’Brien, room 101 and all those other things – wouldn’t seem to lend itself to dance. Plus, it is a risk to offer something so well-known and so full of political ideas in the form of a ballet and the unease I mention derives from wondering how this all could possibly work? Tutus and pirouettes? Surely not!

But, love lends itself, as does betrayal. So it is perhaps not a surprise that Jonathan Watkins’ ultimately triumphant work emphasizes Winston and Julia’s affair. And I’m pleased to say that this production works. It works very well and I loved every minute of it.

The choreography and direction is powerful and effective. The Ministry of Truth is populated by a work force that are almost automata, their repetitive movement synchronized to suggest that what these workers of the Outer Party are doing is factory-like while churning out lies, manipulating the past and fabricating the present. The effect has a strange beauty, as does the two minute hate. Goldstein appears and the synchronization dissolves into fury, the dancers writhing in twisted anger, shaking their arms and bodies at the obscured face distorted on the telescreen.

A sleek, snake-like O’Brien slides around, as Julia and Winston, both beautifully played by Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley respectively, notice each other in the canteen. Even here, during mealtimes, the dance is as a production line – mechanized. But it becomes more subtle as Winston finds himself alone, secretly writing in his diary as he squeezes up against the apartment walls, attempting to evade the telescreens, or as Julia passes her note to him, and the climax of the first act is especially inspired; a remarkable pas de deux as the couple meet in Burnham Beeches.

The dance and emotions are augmented by Alex Baranowski’s brilliant score. I adored it, and found it completely intoxicating played live by the orchestra and resonating in tune with the drama and movement on stage, by turns stringent and opulent. The set works too. For obvious reasons, this is sparse, but very good at suggesting Charrington’s Junk shop (a high tottering shelf of antiques, so-so art prints and a partially concealed bed), or the Ministry of Truth or Love. Helped by the lighting, throwing down blocks of light, hiding the Outer Party in half lights and grey tones while the red, the vibrant prole women cleaners shone and danced on regardless, in vividness. And those all-pervading telescreens…

The production will tour the country, ending in May at Sadler’s Wells. I would urge you to see it if you can. It is engaging and effective, powerful and well delivered and you will be given a memorable evening. Brilliant. Magnificent. Go and see it.

The Tour Dates

Nottingham, Theatre RoyalTue 29 Sep – Sat 3 Oct 2015

0115 989 5555

book now Show Times
Manchester, Palace TheatreWed 14 – Sat 17 Oct 2015

0844 871 3019

book now Show Times
Sheffield, Lyceum TheatreTue 20 – Sat 24 Oct 2015

0114 249 6000

book now Show Times
Edinburgh, Festival TheatreThu 31 Mar – Sat 2 Apr 2016

0131 529 6000

book now Show Times
Southampton, MayflowerWed 4 – Sat 7 May 2016

02380 711811

book now Show Times
London, Sadler’s WellsTue 24 – Sat 28 May 2016

0844 412 4300

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