Writer: Charlotte Brontë
Choreographer: Cathy Marston
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
For those of us familiar with one of literature’s most well-known heroines, it is not difficult to comprehend why the rightly praised Northern Ballet Company have transformed Charlotte Brontë’s novel into a ballet. While Brontë may have baulked at some of choreographer Cathy Marston’s more erotic interpretations, it has to be said that this justly famed novel works brilliantly as a ballet.
The story – for those who didn’t study the book at school, college or university or have read it anyway – revolves around Jane, a penniless orphan who undervalues herself, which is hardly surprising considering the cruel treatment meted out to her by Mrs Reed, the aunt who brings her up, and also by her obnoxious cousins. The scenes in the orphanage are particularly moving, owing to Jane’s friendship with another of the orphans, Helen Burns, who is dying. We only see Helen quite briefly – Marston could, this reviewer feels, have made more of this role, given its poignancy.
Jane’s life takes her via a spell with the would-be missionary the Rev. St John Rivers and his sisters, to Thornfield Hall, where she is employed by the enigmatic Mr Rochester as governess to his young ward Adele. It’s not long before Jane develops feelings for her employer which are, despite their social differences, reciprocated. However, all is not well for Rochester, who has a past with a capital P which threatens both of them.
The central role of Jane was danced with empathy by Abigail Prudames on opening night in Cardiff. Prudames’ fluidity of movement is a delight. This was certainly no plain Jane (as in the novel). Opposite her, Mlindi Kulashe is a forceful Rochester. Trained in Cape Town before completing his training at the English National Ballet School Kulashe danced with verve and expertise plus, in Act II, showing that he also has a masterly touch when it comes to mime. The diminutive Antoinette Brooks-Daw is a skittish and playful Adele, dancing with sure-footed lightness throughout and bringing a light touch into a dark story.
Which is where Act II goes. A brilliant depiction by the Northern Ballet of one of the most famous scenes in literature – mad Bertha and the fire at Thornfield – includes clever shadow projection. Mariana Rodrigues’s Bertha is spot on, to the point where sympathy and horror collide – which is just as it should be. Throughout a grey-clad group of dancers – the D men – give expression to thought and emotion, pinpointing underlying themes.
Patrick Kinmouth’s sets make full use of sliders keeping colour monochrome, with use of a stepped level at times which works well in the party at Thornfield scene. Under the baton of conductor Daniel Parkinson, the Northern Ballet Sinfonia Orchestra conducts Patrick Feeney’s score, making a valuable and atmospheric contribution to the performance
This is classical ballet with a modern twist, which is part of its appeal to a wide audience. Point work is exact, with some brilliant and fast execution of difficult steps, alongside contemporary dance steps, all working together seamlessly to produce a ballet that is modern as well as classic, and at times breathtakingly beautiful.
Runs until Saturday 28 April | Image: Contributed