Such staging complements the magnificent dancing. Batley and Leebolt make a stunning pair: the culmination of their pent-up passion at the end of Act 1 is a jaw-dropping display of two dancers at the height of their prowess.
It is exactly this emphasis on watching that ensures George Orwell’s novel works so well on stage. The audience, always watching and judging the action, are forced to examine the similarity between their voyeurism and the omnipresent Big Brother. Orwell’s text is a meditation on the consequences of a totalitarian, technological society. Northern Ballet’s set cleverly emphasises the technological: Big Brother’s eyes are projected on screen at the back of the stage, always watching, always blinking. In the moments when Winston and Julia (Martha Leebolt) believe themselves to be free from this gaze, the telescreens blur with indistinct images, but the dancers’ reflections are still glimpsed in the reflections of the surveillance cameras.
Aesthetically, 1984 relies on contrast: the uniformity of the blue Ministry of Truth workers juxtaposed with the red sash worn by the rebellious Julia. The geometric, cubist Ministry interior versus the vibrant, liberating meadow in which Julia and Winston consummate their relationship.
Such staging complements the magnificent dancing. Batley and Leebolt make a stunning pair: the culmination of their pent-up passion at the end of Act 1 is a jaw-dropping display of two dancers at the height of their prowess. Jonathan Watkins’ choreography is sensual, dramatic and touching. Crucially, Watkins excels in the big moments but also understands the importance of the small. The recurring motif of the couple holding hands is truly poignant; this is a production that triumphs human interaction as solidarity against adversity.
The production successfully depicts the Party oppression: the clockwork, unified movement of the Ministry workers is disturbing and Alex Baranowski’s score ensures the viewer can never be wholly swept up in the romance: discordant chords jar the romantic strings. Effectively, Simon Daw’s costumes emphasise the story’s timelessness: the A-line skirts, victory rolls and breeches evoke Orwell’s 1940s more than an ultramodern future.
Unfortunately, whilst the denouement retains its sense of the nightmarish, the intricacies of the plot and the intensity of the threat become lost in the mayhem and disorder. The required plot exposition make the finale less effective than the impressive previous scenes.
Nevertheless, Northern Ballet’s 1984 remains a passionate, dramatic and beautifully danced reworking of George Orwell’s prophetic classic.