I have been following Northern Ballet since the 1980s, especially through the years in which Christopher Gable, and then David Nixon, have been at the helm, and through the change from Northern Ballet Theatre rebranded as Northern Ballet. It still has the dramatic focus very much at its heart, but with the ballet on an equal level, too.
Back in 2002 I saw NBT’s production of Wuthering Heights, with Charlotte Talbot as Cathy and the late Jonathan Olliver as Heathcliff. It had all the power and the passion of the source Brontë novel. Will Charlotte’s classic novel fare as well as her sister Emily’s?
The ballet of Jane Eyre (sumptuously scored by Philip Feeney) starts with Jane being discovered on the moors by the Rev St John Rivers, and taken to recover with his sisters. She starts to recount her story, and we go back to the graveside where the young Jane passes to the care of her cruel Aunt Reed and her bullying cousins, their dancing portraying her anger and their indifference.
Passing through Lowood Institution and on to Thornfield, the adult Jane (Dreda Blow) is a fiery, passionate creature and her dancing focuses on both the drama and the technical needs of the story. Rochester (Javier Torres) was initially not working for me, but his scenes with Jane from the fire scene onwards were well judged, tender, and vibrantly portrayed, making me think of both Macmillan’s choreography of Romeo and Juliet and the original NBT production of Dracula, which also used Feeney’s music.
Bertha Mason’s wild harpy with fire red hair, the twittery and fussy Mrs Fairfax, and the graceful Adele, were all highlights in a production which may have stumped those unfamiliar with the novel (and this version excised Mason, instead having Grace Poole appearing injured at the ball), while the additional of a male chorus of ‘D men’ didn’t quite work – Jane is a character who seeks and thrives in solitude, and she is never alone on stage – but this production is an emotional powerhouse with some excellent staging choices (especially around the scenes of fire) and some wonderful pieces of choreography from Cathy Marston.