Big Brother has undergone all sorts of pop culture metamorphoses, but this is perhaps one of the more surprising. Orwell’s dystopian classic has been re-appropriated by choreographer Jonathan Watkins for a 1984 ballet, featuring the talented dance actors of Northern Ballet.
Northern Ballet in London
Critics reviewing the tour have been universally impressed. A former Royal Ballet dancer, Watkins proved his unusual storytelling in his ballet take on Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel for a Knave, KES.
Treading close to the original, Big Brother eyes loom over Watkins’ Ministry of Truth, where Winston works for a state that regularly rewrites history for the convenience of the day, and even thoughts are policed.
At the ministry Winston meets Julia, and so begins an ill-starred affair that will end in Room 101.
A test for narrative ballet
Watkins’ storytelling is straight, avoiding influence from all other adaptations. Angular, repetitive movement and physical tics mimic the Ministry’s linguistic control over the blue-suited workers in Orwell’s original.
That’s in contrast to the lounging, rolling freedom of the terracotta prole district, where Winston and Julia begin their affair. The forest scene in which it is first consummated is a masterpiece of seduction and anxious fear, each revealing an almost predatory hunger for a partner in their suffering.
A master of gestural movement, Watkins reminds us with a hand, a glance over the shoulder that we, like Big Brother, are watching always them.
Northern Ballet in London
First cast will be Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley. It’s a partnership tested by characters of great complexity - Daisy and Gatsby, Cathy and Heathcliffe - and these two rise stunningly to the bitter task of their doomed love. But we look forward to seeing the rubber-sprung Isaac Lee-Baker as Winston.
The unsettling score from Alex Baranowski is an unpretentious companion to drama, and there’s striking stage and video design by Simon Daw and Andrzej Goulding. The set doesn’t manage the ugliness of Orwell’s dystopia, and the action reaches an inevitable stutter at the dark finale - too grisly for dance.
But any small faults fade in the incredible achievement of putting Orwell’s vision, the oppressive organisation of every thought, into movement. This is definitely one of the best ballets London 2016 has to offer.
|What||Northern Ballet: 1984, Sadler’s Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
24 May 16 – 28 May 16, 7:30 PM – 9:20 PM
|Price||£12, £18, £24, £36, £42|
|Website||Click here to book tickets via the Sadler's Wells website|