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Home > Case Studies > Case Study: Northern Ballet – 1984

Case Study: Northern Ballet – 1984

Since their successful opening night at West Yorkshire Playhouse on September 5th, Northern Ballet’s 1984 has attracted much attention. Amongst the 4 and 5* reviews and high praise from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, the BBC and more, Jonathan Watkins’ choreography alongside Alex Baranowski’s score has put the performance on the must see list of cultural events this year.

1984 ballet


Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and it’s once futuristic thematic focus is unquestionably well known. From the Proles to Big Brother, through constant surveillance and Room 101 – there’s no doubt that this adaptation was a daring task to undertake. Such dark themes and innate rigidity are surely amongst the most difficult to interpret through the art of dance – not so it seems for Watkins, trained by the Royal Academy and now freelance for the past two years. Amongst his numerous previous choreography credits you’ll find similar projects such as Kes, at the Sheffield Crucible, adapted of course from A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines.

The Northern Ballet itself has always pushed boundaries in its 45-year history, especially over the last ten years with adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights and Cleopatra to name a few. Despite this collection of forward thinking narrative works from artistic director David Nixon, the adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four and its dystopian world was a further step further still. We’re thrilled to have granted funding towards the creation of Baranowski’s score through our Open Funding programme, especially as he and Watkins have worked so successfully together previously. Speaking to The Independent last month, Baranowski addressed the thematic issue:

“Musically we were very conscious of not being big and down and dark, especially with the cells before Room 101. There’s a relatively long scene with the prisoners who’ve been accused of thoughtcrimes and so on, whom (main character) Winston meets. We chose to be quite minimalist, using textures of sounds and noises – rather than, for instance, relentless minor chords and big drums… It’s wonderful to work with a live orchestra and I’m using it for all it’s worth, with all its different noises and textures.”

In the same article, Watkins himself defended the much more modern route he’s taken:

“I don’t understand why we can’t approach ballet like a newly written play – why can’t it be relevant to our times now? It’s great to have escapism but it’s also great to have something we can reflect on. As for the times we’re living in, everyone knows there’s surveillance up to the hilt, so it feels like the concepts it touches on already can relate to your life now. Life is dark.”

1984 is currently on tour, you can find the Northern Ballet in a city near you by heading to their website for tickets:

Take a look at their video below for a sneak peak of what to expect: