Review: Northern Ballet’s 1984 @ The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Inherently bold in nature, a ballet adaptation of Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four is extremely courageous and venturesome to say the least but translated into a huge success for the Northern Ballet.

An unlikely title for a ballet, 1984 gathered an audience of a predominantly young age, intrigued by the daring choice of the political tale.

Jonathan Watkins’ choreography undeniably captured the monotonously bleak life under the watch of Big Brother, conveying it with constrained movements and a repetitive musical score. 

Perpetually switching from fluid motion and beautifully free dancing when evading Big Brother to strict and square routines during the work scenes, the choreography set the tone excellently.

Tobias Batley as Winston Smith and Martha Leebolt who plays the role of Julia were utterly enthralling in their performances, as their dancing and acting abilities captivated the audience.

The choreography is paired with an original score by composer and arranger Alex Baranowski which interchanged from robotic and metallic sounds to rich and emotional melodies. 

Symbolism lay at the core of the production, relaying the story to the audience for which the props used to do so worked admirably soundly.

‘UNRELENTING’: The stare of ‘Big Brother’ created an uncomfortable feeling within the audience

Irking and perturbing, the unrelenting blinking stare of the big eyes on a large screen hanging above the dancers created an uncomfortable feeling within the audience. 

The production was a true testament to Set and Costume Designer Simon Daw as the props on stage were central to the conveyance of the story.

Far from simply being a pretty display of dancing with nice costumes, 1984 brought out a dark and distressing feel amongst its audience, creating an unparalleled emotive experience. 

The scene of Room 101 was actively painful to watch and acted as the climax of the tenebrific tale.

Flashing white images felt so bright, members of the audience raised their hands to their face just to escape the glare.

The vast importance of lighting to the show cannot be understated as lighting designer Chris Davey hit the spot.

Attributing the colour red to anything forbidden or deviating from custom in the oppressive world of Nineteen-eighty-four, it contributed enormously to the telling of the story. 

A word-less spectacle, the pace of the music, the choreography and the symbolism spoke louder than dialogue allowing even anyone new to the story to understand it.

The performance heedfully followed Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four storyline, keeping faithful to it.

Set in a dystopian world of duress and suppression under the rule of a totalitarian government, the impenetrable surveillance of Big Brother surfaces insurgent sentiment within the protagonists.

A short-lived love story in rebellion of the party-doctrine, the protagonists soon come to realise that the pervasive authority is inescapable and no one can be trusted. 

Intricate and rather schizophrenic in nature, Jonathan Watkins’ choreography is a medium which effortlessly replaces dialogue portraying the elation of romance against the dreariness of conformism.

Watkins said: “George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been a constant inspiration to me since I first read it at 15.”

A contemporary and timeless piece of literature, Nineteen eighty-four holds a particular relevance in our modern-day. 

Watkins said: “It is a powerful and thought-provoking allegory that now, more than ever, has resonance with the times in which we are living.”

A political philosophy novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four is an unusual choice for a ballet as political ideology is not the easiest to portray through dance.

But the triumph of this adaptation could pave the way for more to come.

Northern Ballet’s Artistic Director, David Nixon OBE, said: “This production promises to challenge the idea of what stories can be told through dance and the dramatic talent of our dancers will draw the audience into the very core of literary masterpiece.”

The closing show in Manchester was last night, but 1984 is continuing its national tour through autumn 2015 and spring 2016.

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