bertha and Edward Rochester

Bertha and Edward Rochester as fire overtakes Jane Eyre's story at Thornfield. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

Jane Eyre

Northern Ballet

Wolverhampton Grand

****

NORTHERN Ballet has built a reputation for innovative storytelling, often with subjects not normally associated with ballet, or even dance for that matter, subjects such as Jane Eyre.

It is a path not without its pitfalls. Dance can convey emotion; it can convey a simple narrative - but a full novel? Thirty eight chapters in this case and more than 400 pages?

Charlotte Brontë, born 100 years ago this year, created a complex storyline, multi layered, with orphan Jane, fulfilling the dying wish of her uncle by living with her Aunt Sarah and her offspring – her abuse at their hands not being part of the plan.

She is sent to a charity school where deprivation is the order of the day, her best friend Helen dies, and then there is Thornfield Hall where Jane becomes a governess and is wooed by Mr Rochester, who forgets to mention he already has a loony wife in the attic – which goes down well at the church when he tries to marry Jane.

Chuck in a fervent Christian clergyman who also wants to marry her and go off missionarying in India, a fire at Thornfield set by the mad wife who then commits suicide, with Rochester blinded trying to rescue her . . . and it is a heck of a lot to dance your way through, still at least Jane and Rochester live happily ever after.

So it helps if you already know the story, or at the very least arrive in time to read a synopsis in the progamme, otherwise following the story, or even working out who is who will be about as clear as the arguments for and against staying in the EU!

Cathy Marston’s direction and choreography is a mix of ballet and contemporary dance which, with familiarity with the story, works well.

FRIGHTENED INNOCENT

Rachel Gillespie’s young Jane is a frightened innocent at the start, bullied by both Janes aunt, Mrs Reed, danced by Victoria Sibson, and her three cousins.

Abigail Prudame’s grown up Jane is more assured, dancing with more authority and her final pas de deux with the now blinded Edward Rochester, danced by Mlindi Kulash, shows both passion and affection.

Sean Bates is a suitably keen suitor as the Rev St. John Rivers while Matthew Toplis weighs in as the less than kindly head of Lowood School, the Rev Brocklehurst and, dancing around like a flickering flame in a fireworks factory we have Bertha Mason, danced by Marina Rodrigues.

Patrick Kinmonth’s set is simple but clever with a backdrop and full height sliding panels and curtains giving an impression of the bleak Yorkshire moors and dry stone walls around Charlotte’s home in Haworth.

Minimal items of furniture, a few slide out gravestones and the moving panels and curtains changed scenes and atmosphere seamlessly with a full width gauze screen dropping in front of a rear platform helping produce a dramatic fire with clever lighting and a smoke machine. Simple, but very effective.

Atmosphere was also created by Alastair West’s lighting and Philip Feeney’s music which was compelling and hypnotic rather than memorable. They were no melodies or symphonic sections to savour or hum on the way home but it did fit in well, unobtrusive and helping to generate the mood of the narrative.

And the score was beautifully played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Nathan Ffield, with some particularly fine piano an cello passages.

If you take the time to familiarise yourself with the story, a coming of age tale, with a sense of right and wrong, then this is a fine interpretation in the trailblazing tradition of the Leeds based dance company.

Roger Clarke

11-06-16

Check out the rest of the tour dates with ballets including 1984 and Swan lake at https://northernballet.com/

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