Northern Ballet re-works 1984 for the stage

Choreographer Jonathan Watkins on adapting George Orwell’s seminal novel

Northern Ballet's 1984

Isaac Lee Baker as Winston and Dreda Blow as Julia in Jonathan Watkins' 1984 / credit: Emma Kauldhar

For many, Big Brother is simply a TV show filled with fame-hungry people desperate to raise their profile. But for those who have read George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, the term refers to a far more sinister form of surveillance. Written in 1948, the novel depicts a world where freedom of choice is a thing of the past, and loving anyone other than Big Brother and the ‘Party’ is strictly forbidden. In the midst of this hellish conformity, a love affair blossoms between protagonists Winston and Julia.

It was this stark contrast, between the lovers’ clandestine meetings and the rest of their heavily scrutinised lives, that appealed to Jonathan Watkins, who has choreographed Northern Ballet's 1984.

‘I always imagined creating two different worlds,’ he says. ‘With the physicality of Winston and Julia working against the uniformity of the Party. A lot of people wondered how you could turn 1984 into a ballet, but when you see the production, you realise how it lends itself to that medium.’

Despite being written almost 70 years ago, Orwell’s novel has a perpetual resonance, meaning that no matter when you read or see it, it appears current.

‘I did a Q&A session with young people and they felt it was talking about social media now,’ says Watkins. ‘But then I spoke to older people who read the book years ago, and they felt it was about the time they were living in back then. Because whether you read it when it was first written, or in the 1960s, 1990s or now, there’s always stuff happening in the world that you can link it to.’

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Thu 31 Mar–Sat 2 Apr; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, Wed 4 May–Sat 7 May; Sadler's Wells, London, Tue 24 May–Sat 28 May.

Northern Ballet: 1984

  • Written by: Jonathan Watkins

Northern Ballet take on Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 in a piece of dance that updates the novel for dance fans.


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