Brief Encounter With … Kes director and choreographer Jonathan Watkins

Jonathan Watkins talks about his dance-theatre adaptation of Kes, currently running at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield.

This month Sheffield Theatres will be presenting a dance-theatre adaptation of Kes.

Director and choreographer Jonathan Watkins in rehearsals for Kes.
Director and choreographer Jonathan Watkins in rehearsals for Kes.
© Johan Persson

The story of Billy Casper, an isolated young boy growing up in industrial working class Barnsley who finds companionship and inspiration through befriending a wild kestrel hawk, originates from Barry Hines‘ 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave, which itself was adapted by Ken Loach in to the 1969 film Kes.

This new theatrical dance adaptation, directed and choreographed by Barnsley-born Jonathan Watkins promises to be a unique reimagining. Watkins speaks of his connection to this well-loved story.

"The story of Kes is in my DNA; in my blood. I grew up in Barnsley, where it is just known. Whether you've studied the book in school, or you've watched the film, there's a great sense of personal ownership of the story there. It's a story I have carried through my life, and one I knew I wanted to retell through the medium of dance. I wanted to recreate this story as close to home as possible, and the Crucible is a wonderful space in which to do it. Because of its circular shape, you can create a sense of claustrophobia in the intimate interior scenes, and still have broad, expansive exteriors.

There is something very poetic about this narrative: the opposition between the restriction of the industrial, interior world, and the freedom of the exterior world; the relationship that develops between boy and bird, and how that opens Billy up. It's a circular narrative, taking place over the course of one day, and in some ways, it is a grim, bleak story, but there is also positivity. At the end of that day, something has changed. I believe that experience has to change us. For Billy, has this experience opened something up; ignited a passion for the natural world?

Translating these things into the visual language of dance was a natural step for me: that's just how I think. There are a lot of things you can do in dance that you wouldn't want to read or have said. My background is in classical ballet, but I've worked in a lot of different media recently – short films, movement direction – and this piece draws on many different theatrical tools: music; design; puppetry. Dance is my language, but telling the story clearly to the people it means so much to is the goal."

Kes runs at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield until 5 April 2014.