1984 has infiltrated our everyday language, our ideals an our social outlook on life. It is a novel that, even if you haven’t read it, you’ll certainly know of its impact in our daily life. Big Brother. 2+2=5. War is Peace. Orwell’s novel has been interpreted into many mediums, and now, a brave attempt to convert it to ballet.
Choreographer Jonathan Watkins attempts to whittle down the enormously influential novel into 120 minutes of dance. The choreography is brilliantly robotic, repetitive, representative of the drones moving around the Ministry of Truth, overlooked by BIG BROTHER. And just at the right moments, it switches to flowy romanticised movement, representative of passion and yearn from Winston and Julia.
Tobias Batley makes for a great Winston. A clearly talented and accomplished dancer, he captures the frustrations of the resistance with such class. The love story between Winston, and Julia (performed by Californian-born Martha Leebolt) is extremely moving and full of life.
Set design is minimal, with moving cubicles gliding into the choreography which was a nice touch. And of course Big Brother looks straight onto the audience. Particular moments of brilliance come when a blink and a twang from a violin suddenly awakens you to the overbearing stare from deep within the set again. He is always watching, even when you aren’t.
[SPOILER!] The devastation of Winston falling out of love with Julia in the Ministry of Love is a heart-wrenching realisation in the novel, but the choreography and direction just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. After an energetic few hours, the almighty ending came at a bit of a disappointment. In what seems like a massive build up – the betrayal of Winston to Julia is summed up in the space of ten minutes, a simple point of the finger and it’s over. It is certainly a complex story to grasp in movement, and in parts I truly felt like Watkins had succeeded but I question whether you can truly boil down the social impact of 1984 into such abstract and simplified movements.
1984 is at Manchester Palace Theatre 14-17 October 2015.