QUAYS News entertainment reporter Polly Riggs went to watch 1984 ballet at the Palace Theatre in Manchester on Friday night, this is what she thought of it…

I confess I’m hardly a dance expert; my experience with ballet extends to ill-fated lessons as a seven year old and my club moves can, at best, be described only as bumbling. Consequently, going to watch Jonathan Watkins’ ballet of Orwell’s 1984 was something of a clean slate, with my only concern being with the preservation of my beloved novel. The ballet is the first of its kind, and concluded last night (Saturday) at the Palace Theatre.

Admittedly, I wasn’t enamoured with it straight away. Much of the first act was dominated with depictions of lead character Winston’s work place: the Ministry of Truth, and this could be described as a little wearing after a while. The monotony of working life was conveyed particularly effectively through dance, with the simultaneous choreography suggesting a drone-like nature, relevant both in Orwell’s novel and in the modern working world.

The scene in which Winston and his fellow rebel Julia first have sex was the highlight of the first act. Lead dancers Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt struck a perfect balance between sensual and wonderment at their defiance of the fascist state in which the plot is set, with some spectacular lifts to tastefully indicate intimacy.

In my opinion, the second act was a different class to its predecessor. This was perhaps due to the nature of the novel, in that there is simply more action to get across towards the climax and conclusion of the plot. Notably clever was the transition between the state’s opponents in warfare, achieved by changing the colour of the wartime posters and demonstrating the state’s need to bury history almost immediately.

Winston’s arrest and subsequent torture was portrayed with such passion that it was difficult to remain unmoved. I had been particularly protective over the climatic scene, having been mildly haunted by its concept since reading the book, but Watkins pulls it off chillingly well. Winston is taken to ‘Room 101’, where he is forced to face his worst fear and wear a mask full of ravenous rats ready to eat him alive. Employing the use of the large television screen that featured throughout, a nod perhaps to the ever-present nature of media in our lives, Batley outstandingly conveys fear and disgust through dance as he is pushed towards a screen full of swarming rodents. It was as horrific and frightening as I wanted it to be, and for that Watkins deserves endless credit.

The ballets effectiveness was largely due to the spectacular use of simple sets and props to tell the story well, although I couldn’t help but doubt whether the audience would have understood subtle references without an avid knowledge of the original novel. The omnipresence of ‘Big Brother’ was shown through a slightly unnerving set of eyes which loomed on a screen over the stage for the majority of the performance, so that not only was it obvious that the characters were being ‘watched’, the audience almost felt so too.

Much credit must be due to Watkins and the Northern Ballet Company for this intriguing and true to the original adaptation. Although I won’t be taking up ballet as a full time hobby any time soon, I was overall very impressed, both with the agility and prowess of the entire company, and with the ease with which the story came across.

And of course, Orwell’s novel continues to be chillingly relevant to modern society. If you haven’t read it, why not?

By: Polly Riggs

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