1984 is one of my favourite books and the Northern Ballet Company are my favourite ballet company (they’re brilliant storytellers), so I was very excited when I saw the two were coming together. However, as 1984 is so language-based, I wasn’t sure how even they were going to adapt this one.
The production and staging was simple and very effective. There’s a larger screen with Big Brother’s eyes (which occasionally blink) or Goldstein’s face, depending if it’s the two minute hate, and smaller screens to show they are being watched. At the end I loved how they used the screen to indicate what happens to Winston. The choreography used a triangle gesture to indicate Big Brother and the party, and this triangle was also shown in the floor and the angular walls which were moved around to create different scenes.
I particularly loved the way they did the two minutes hate. The uniform movements of the corps descend into punching and yelling at the screen showing Goldstein’s face. But when Winston first sees Julia, the corps become slow-motion as Julia moves on her own, in her way, and Winston can’t do anything but stand and stare. I also loved the passionate pas de deux between Winston and Julia when they meet for the first time in the field. So damn hot.
What’s also excellent about the choreography is how it’s not all about these grand mass movements; it’s also about using small gestures and posture, especially during a scene at lunch when Winston is trying to figure Julia out, and when he meets with Julia or O’Brien with the two minutes hate as a cover.
The score fit really well the story, and it used lots of creepy-screechy strings (can you tell I have no musical training?) at perfect moments.
The only part that jarred is that I wasn’t quite sure about the proles. I liked the way their movement was much more free than anyone in the party, but they didn’t quite fit into the story being told. They were only small part in the ballet though, so it wasn’t distracting.
1984 is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a few more days, and then tours for a couple of weeks and early next year (find out where here). Well worth going to watch, it’s doubleplus good.
(In the performance I saw, Isaac Lee-Baker played Winston, and Dreda Blow played Julia. Lee-Baker really blew me away, and apparently he’s only a junior soloist)