Choreographer Jonathan ‘pumped up’ for Kes dance

Rehearsals for Kes. Pic: Johan Persson/Rehearsals.
Rehearsals for Kes. Pic: Johan Persson/Rehearsals.
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The Barnsley-born creator of a dance version of Kes on stage at the Crucible said that the story is “in his veins”.

Dancer Jonathan Watkins has directed and choreographed the adaptation of Kes, from Barry Hines’ story, A Kestrel For A Knave, that became Ken Loach’s iconic 1969 film, set in Barnsley.

Jonathan, who is from Worsbrough, said: “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years. I grew up in Barnsley and left to go to the Royal Ballet School when I was 12.

“It’s a story that’s in your blood when you grow up in Barnsley. It’s so well known and people have this personal ownership of it really. It’s in your veins.”

He added: “It always remained with me on my journey, creating dance at the Royal Ballet and on different projects. I just think the story is so poetic and expressive – two worlds that you can show, physically, the industrial confinements of school and home life against this natural world, an exterior where he develops the relationship between the boy and bird.

“It’s poetic and expressive, that you can portray through dance and it’s always been developing in my mind, for four or five years really. Not seriously at first, but in the back of my mind.

“Then it came to the front of my mind two years ago and Sheffield Crucible’s Daniel Evans met it with the same passion as I have for the story and wanted to go ahead with it. So I’m really fortunate and lucky that it’s going to be produced here at the Crucible.”

Jonathan said he was determined to remain faithful to Barry Hines’ work. The writer adapted his own story as the screenplay for the film.

He said: “There’s a lot of challenges creating dance from text but there are a lot of different tools I’m using, including new music, scenery and this puppetry element that tells the development of this wild bird, being tamed by Billy.”

Dialogue is used in some scenes, although the dancers never speak. Jonathan explained: “In the really famous Mr Sugden, Brian Glover part in the film, I’ve staged it like a PE games lesson but in his head he’s on Match Of The Day and it’s showing the highlights, I kind of wanted that fantasy football going on in his head so there’s a commentary – a use of language in that way.”

The creation of the kestrel has been an exciting process for Jonathan and he wants to be surprised by it.

“I’ve been working with a lady called Rachael Canning who has designed the puppetry element with me,” said Jonathan.

“All I would say is that it starts in a very articulate, realistic version of the bird, in terms of puppetry and then as the boy and bird’s relationship progresses.

“Billy opens up to this new world and the kestrel becomes more tame – the puppetry expresses that progression and develops in a more expressive form.

“I don’t want to spoil how it’s going to be done because it’s quite a nice moment in the production, but it has a development that kind of keys in to the freedom of flight, that energy release a freedom.”

Barnsley was an important part of the film and Jonathan says his show reflects that. “I’m very proud of where I come from. I wanted to create it as close to Barnsley as possible and this sort of scale and size of production that I wanted, this was the nearest place to Barnsley to create the vision that I had for it.”

He added: “We are going to be inviting anyone and everyone who has been involved in the film – I would love them to see it because it’s obviously faithful to the book, but a different version of it. I’d love them to see what we’ve been up to.”

Then he’s going to see how far his boy and kestrel can fly: “The message of this story about this boy getting out of his box, going from one world to the other, is a very universal message and it’s about finding something that you are passionate about and letting that lead your activity.

“I’d love to spread the message to whoever wants to see it. There’s a very local geographical reference to it here but I think everyone has been in that situation, where they feel a bit lost and the world they are in you feel disconnected – but you feel a passion or connection to something else.

“I think that’s a great universal message that has a very reflective quality worldwide so here’s hoping we can find that platform for it and after the premiere in Sheffield the world is our oyster for it.”

Kes is at the Crucible from next Thursday, March 27, to Saturday April 5. Tickets: from the Crucible box office, call 0114 2496000 or go online to