Embedded pursuant to a standard YouTube licence
Northern Ballet, 1984, Palace Theatre, Manchester, 17 Oct 2015, 19:30
As I had expected, I liked Northern Ballet's 1984 very much more the second time around. There are two reasons for that. The first is that I knew what to look out for having seen the show in Leeds on 11 Sept 2015 (see My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2915). The second is that Isaac Lee-Baker and Dreda Blow came very close to my picture of Winston Smith and Julia.
There is only so much that the senses can absorb when one attends the theatre. The first time I saw the show I concentrated on the plot in order to understand the ballet rather than the sound and movement through which the story was expressed. There was a lot of movement in this ballet - the choreography, of course, but also spectacular electronic displays on a massive "telescreen". Knowing the sequence of the ballet I was better able to appreciate Jonathan Watkins's choreography, Andrzej Goulding's telescreen, Simon Daw's sets and costumes, Alex Baranowski's score and some exquisite dancing.
Lee-Baker as Smith and Blow as Julia were perfect casting in my recollection of Orwell's novel. Smith is a young chap, very impressionable and somewhat naive - the sort who might have been turned by Stalin had he worked in the Foreign Office in the late 1940s rather than the Ministry of Truth in 1984. Such a role requires a young dancer but one with considerable ability. A role tailor made for Lee-Baker who had triumphed as Friar Lawrence in Maillot's Romeo and Juliet earlier in the year (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015) and as Wilson in Gatsby last year (see Northern Ballet at its best: The Great Gatsby in Bradford 16 Nov 2014).
As I recall the novel, Julia is a temptress and I intend it as a compliment when I say that Blow was a very sexy lady. She is another dancer that I began to appreciate for the first time in Romeo and Juliet. When I saw her as Juliet I wrote:
"Casting Blow for the role was an inspiration. She was a perfect Juliet. Playful and feisty. Loving but conflicted. Brave but fearful. Blow is elevated to my pantheon of favourites."Julia is a very different role from Juliet but Blow was an excellent choice. She is perhaps Northern's best actor. She was sultry. She was seductive. She was my idea of Julia.
The third leading character in Watkins's ballet is O'Brien, the senior apparatchik who tricks Smith and Julia into dropping their guard and then betrays them. Javier Torres danced that role in September and he was excellent. He saved that show for me on that occasion. Last Saturday it was Ashley Dixon who was a very different O'Brien but no less convincing. He projected menace and oiliness even in the privacy of his apartment when entertaining his young quaries with a silent telescreen.
It was good to see some of my favourites in the company - Hiranao Takehashi as Charrington, Jeremy Curnier as O'Brien's assistant, Victoria Sibson as the lead female prole and Rachael Gillespie, Abigail Prudames and Mlindi Kulashe who danced in the crowd scenes as party faithful and proles but still shone - as did all in the cast last Saturday night.
Orwell's satire is not an obvious choice for a ballet. In the Q & A that followed the show in Leeds on 11 Sept 2015 Watkins was asked why he had chosen that work as the subject of a ballet. 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."As you can see from the synopsis Watkins followed Orwell pretty faithfully. The sets, costumes, music, choreography, dancing came together beautifully. I don't think that this will ever be one of my favourite ballets but it it one that I now understand, appreciate and recommend.
The company will perform 1984 today in Sheffield for one last time in the North before they take it to the rest of the country. I had hoped to see it in Sheffield with Giuliano Contadini and Antoinette Brooks-Daw in the leading roles but they were dancing on the nights when Jane Tucker teaches the improvers and I was due to see Rambert at The Alhambra. Perhaps I can catch that cast at Sadler's Wells in May. Londoners tend to like Northern Ballet perhaps even more than we Mancunians and I am sure they will enjoy this show.