|The world in 1984|
After Northern Ballet's performance of 1984 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Friday Jonathan Watkins agreed to answer questions from members of the audience. The session took place in the Quarry auditorium where the ballet had been informed.
I had read up about Watkins earlier in the year because I liked his A Northern Trilogy and seen a number of videos in which he had appeared on YouTube. I was aware that he came from South Yorkshire, that he had trained at the Royal Ballet School and that he had danced with the Royal Ballet between 2003 and 2013. It occurred to me that Ernst Meisner, one of my favourite choreographers, would have been one of his contemporaries.
The session was opened by a lady whose name I forget but who I believe must have been Selina McGonagle for she introduced herself as Northern Ballet's Director of Learning. As she was chairing the session she reserved the right to ask the first question which was on how the concept of the ballet had changed since her first discussion with Watkins about the ballet several months ago. Watkins replied that there had been change largely to reflect the input of the dancers whom he praised very highly and the other members of the creative team. I got the impression that he had an outline in his mind but the ballet had developed organically.
As the chair had warned us that we had time for only 3 or 4 questions I stuck my hand up next. As I said in My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2015 the ballet had a very retro feel and I asked him whether that was intentional. I am not sure whether he asked for amplification or whether I volunteered it but I was thinking specifically of Miracle in the Gorbals and Job. Watkins knew Job but not Miracle even though it had been re-staged recently by Gillian Lynne. He replied that that had not been his intention but he had been exposed to many influences through his training at the Royal Ballet School and his work in the company. If he was influenced by anything it was the cinema. He mentioned several films that he admired including Kes which he had translated into dance and the Lego Movie. Indeed he mentioned the Lego Movie several times in different contexts in the Q & A.
The next question was on why Watkins had chosen 1984 and whether he had any other works in the pipeline. He replied that he had read the book as a teenager and had been affected by it. He had contemplated how it could be translated into dance for some time. The same had happened with the Ken Loach film Kes which he first saw about the same time. That film resonated with him because it was set in the area in which he had spent his childhood. Last year he had the chance of stage it for The Crucible in Sheffield. By staging Kes and 1984 he had achieved two longstanding ambitions. He did have other projects in mind but he did not want to announce what they were for the time being.
A lady behind me congratulated him on his love scenes which she described as "erotic". He acknowledged her praise and remarked that those are scenes that many people like best.
He was asked about his collaboration with the composer and whether he specified the music he needed. He confirmed that that was the way he worked. He described the music as "a character in itself."
A gentleman congratulated him on his use of colour. Watkins replied how the colours of the party members and proles had been chosen. They started with brown and developed into orangey reds.
A lady with a North American accent who was there with her daughter mentioned her daughter's amazement that the story had been told without a spoken word. I couldn't help reflecting that was the whole point of ballet and indeed all dance drama. Watkins accepted that praise graciously.
He was asked several detailed questions about the transposition of the story and the characters from the book, why there were no children in the ballet and how he had maintained the tension of the story in the ballet. The last question prompted him to ask whether the audience felt he had maintained tension and he was told that he had.
All in all I found Watkins a very likeable chap with a good sense of humour. Because my senses were still overwhelmed by the marvellous gala I had seen in Amsterdam three days earlier (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 July 2015) I probably didn't do justice to his work. Indeed it is unlikely that I would have done justice to anybody's work. Maybe I should have stayed away until Amsterdam had worn off but then I would have missed this Q & A with Watkins.