Choreographer Jonathan Watkins first read George Orwell's dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four when he was 15. So did I.

He revisited it this year to create Northern Ballet's 1984. So did I.

He read it twice before starting to plan the production, which opened this week at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, as part of a world premiere tour. I have it on my bedside table still because I am at the point when it all starts to go wrong for Winston Smith and Room 101 is looming.

The vagaries of Manchester City Centre traffic meant I missed the beginning and didn't witness Winston's subversive act of buying a blank book with plans to express his feelings about life under the omniscient leader Big Brother.

And that life, with its controlled thought and movement, is so succinctly expressed by Watkins in automaton-style movements, that I begin to feel repressed within minutes. Each move is clipped, cut short, enclosed. There is no opportunity for expression. Almost an elaborate port de bras routine. Eating, working, talking, rewriting history - it is all the same. Only hating is allowed full expresssion. The obligatory two minute daily hate session, against enemies of the Party, is when the dancers let rip with body and soul before going back to 'normal'.

Northern Ballet's 1984 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester
Northern Ballet's 1984 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester

The costumes, by set designer Simon Daw had me on edge. Air Force blue with a nattily trimmed jacket. Quite nice really, but not if you had to wear it every day. Visions of pictures of a 'happy' workforce in a 'happy' building society, airline or factory in 2015 came to mind. There was a touch of red of course, for members of the Inner Party, echoed throughout in Andrzej Goulding's video.

Winston (ex- Hammond School student Tobias Batley) eventually escapes the rigours of daily 1984 life (or so he thinks) and he and his new found love Julia (Martha Leebolt) discover each other on a day out to the coutryside. Their pas de deux is a touching expression of lyricism although their fear of being watched or discovered is never far away. And Daw's oversized bare tree is certainly no Garden of Eden.

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Alex Baranowski's score is perfect. From an almost rhythmic military precision, to the bucolic duet in the countryside, to the screeching rats heralding the dreaded Room 101, he had captured the very essence of Orwell's work.

This ballet was never going to be an easy watch and you know it is not going to end well. Choreographer Matthew Bourne has even suggested that ballet may have a short shelf life and that every aspect of the creative form will be incorporated under the umbrella term 'dance'.

But whether Northern Ballet ever becomes Northern Dance, this was a brave and compelling dance drama - a challenge to the senses.

1984 is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday, October 17. Click here for tickets.