Again we join Northern Ballet in Manchester, where the company presents 1984The production premiered in Leeds, to great acclaim, and a nine months tour of the UK will culminate with a run in London next May, at Sadler’s Wells.

There is no doubt Jonathan Watkins and the creative team at Northern Ballet have created a unique, clear, and entertaining ballet of George Orwell's novel. With all the permissions and rights to do so, amid a little scepticism perhaps. The new choreography gels with Ruth Little's dramaturg to such an extent that the dance might as well be spelling out the literature. This is impressively accessible and lifts the story from the weight of History and tradition.

Isaac Lee-Baker as Winston and Dreda Blow as Julia © Emma Kauldhar
Isaac Lee-Baker as Winston and Dreda Blow as Julia
© Emma Kauldhar

The second cast is charming and interesting, with young Isaac Lee-Baker as the protagonist, Winston, and Dreda Blow as Julia. This cast could relate to the secret power puppeteer of the novel. Uniquely, and credibly for the company, each dancer has a chance to shine and all did so with loyal vigour, making 'tutti' scenes especially smooth and convincing.

Also cohesive are the artistic and technological components in place for an excellent production. Simon Daw’s cold-paletted minimal setting of the military, conformist dystopia was refined and brutalist at the same time. His costumes, just the same, tempered beautifully to the dancers – Blow's party dress and bedroom slip delicately negotiated changes in emotional state. Andrzej Goulding’s fascinating video design married well with the moving stage architecture and sculpture, timely handled by the dancers and excitingly imbedded into the dance at times.

The key word throughout the production is 'tension' – of the good kind. The quality can be observed between the characters as well as in the plot (separated into two contrasting acts), but also in the relationship of the cast to the staging, and the props. Most effective is the contrast between those uniformed figures and the proles. A savage freedom is displayed in the dances of the proles, soli and ensemble, with motifs of the choreography also making their way into Winston and Julia's movement as they drift further from party doctrine. Though the visual elements of the production are fantastic, the beauty of the piece really lays in Watkins' new choreographic translation of Orwell's novel. It's definitely a work to see.

© Emma Kauldhar
© Emma Kauldhar
I would agree with Graham Watts, who reviewed the première and first cast of this work, in emphasising its entertainment value and excellence. Personally, however, I found the music, though accomplished, did not fit the dance. For me, it created a heavily translucent veneer beneath which it became difficult to access the dance. This is a credit to the choreography, however, as it could have 'easily' stood on its own in silence with the whir of the design machines. This may further emphasise the extraordinary link between movement and the written word that has proved the focus of excellent recent works.

***11