Jonathan flies from Kes to 1984 ballet

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Barnsley lad Jonathan Watkins was on familiar ground with his ballet adaptation of the book Kes last year but his latest work tells a terrifying story of a harsh future world.

Former Royal Ballet dancer Jonathan, who is from Worsbrough, created his first book adaptation with A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines at the Crucible, on which Ken Loach also based his much-loved film version.

Now dance choreographer Jonathan has worked with Leeds-based company Northern Ballet to produce a stunning new interpretation of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

It tells the story of Winston Smith, who with his lover Julia rebels against an authoritarian regime and its mythical leader, Big Brother.

Jonathan explained why he chose 1984: “It was like Kes, it was one of those two books that it was my dream to make into a ballet adaptation. I’ve done them both now! I really liked the fact that 1984 was quite different to Kes.

“The story kind of has a similar style in its telling but obviously it is done with a different kind of dance performers and actors.

“It was a joy to work with them to bring this story to life.”

In the book, Winston and his fellow government ministry workers are watched and controlled the whole time.

The dance moves in the ministry are controlled and rhythmic, in contrast to the flowing beauty of the duet between Winston and Julia when believe they have finally escaped their drab world.

Jonathan said: “It’s not like a conventional ballet where you see one scene and another. What we wanted to do was capture the driving factor. In the book there is this daily grind and monotony.

“Then later you see this is what it is to breathe, almost like the fresh air of the countryside.”

In the second half of the show, the lovers’ idyll is shattered when they are captured and Winston has to face the terrifying ordeal of Room 101.

Jonathan is especially looking forward to seeing the show on the Lyceum stage because it’s where he first danced with a professional company.

“I was nine or 10 and my dance school put some of us forward to dance with Scottish Ballet in Anna Karenina. I was the son of the main characters.

“I came on on a sledge and the stage is very raked (sloping forwards).

“We had to have a pretend snowball fight and I thought, ‘we’re going to roll down to the front of the stage’.

“I’ve very much come full circle and I’m very appreciative of what’s gone between those moments.”

He’s certainly come a long way from Ward Green Primary School and his first dance lessons with Mavis Burrows.

1984 is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or online at