Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Conductor: John Pryce-Jones
Director and Choreographer: David Nixon OBE
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
This is a revival of what was David Nixon’s first creation for Northern Ballet over twelve years ago, the premiere of which I was fortunate to see. This new version with redesigned and refreshed costumes loses none of the original’s stark power and beauty in this timeless love story set in the bleak landscape of the Yorkshire moors.
There cannot be many people who have not heard of the story of Cathy and Heathcliff and the passion they have for each other. Heathcliff is brought to the isolated farmhouse that is Wuthering Heights as an orphan by Mr. Earnshaw and is adopted into the family. He is immediately drawn to Cathy while at the same time incurring the wrath of her brother Hindley. The seeds are sown for future tragedy. The other main players are the Lintons who live in the genteel and sophisticated Thrushcross Grange. Cathy is drawn into that world and eventually marries Edgar more for reasons of social ambition than genuine love and Heathcliff feels rejected. He goes away and returns many years later a rich man to reclaim Cathy but not before wreaking his revenge by using Edgar’s sister Isabella as a pawn in his game.
All this is stunningly and evocatively realised by Northern Ballet in a production that does not fail to move and stir the emotions. Premier dancers Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley as Cathy and Heathcliff bring everything you would expect to their rôles – and more. Their many pas de deux are so passionate and intense, that even the hardest of hearts would be moved. From his first entrance as the tormented and raging Heathcliff out on the moors on a stormy night, haunted by thoughts of Cathy, Batley sets the tone as an animalistic and agile figure dominating the stage with long black flowing locks and brooding menace. This is contrasted with his final scene back on the moors again, now an old man desperate to embrace death and be reunited with Cathy. He falls to his knees with his head to the heavens as snow begins to fall – a wonderful and still image. Leebolt has to portray all the conflicts within Cathy as her love for Heathcliff competes with her attraction to the lifestyle offered by the Lintons and this she does with consummate skill. Extremely agile and expressive throughout, she is a joy to watch.
Great credit must go to Jeremy Curnier and Rachael Gillespie as young Heathcliff and Cathy. Excellent casting ensures these two performers actually do look as if they could be the younger selves of the main protagonists and when, particularly, the two Heathcliffs share the stage simultaneously, the effect is quite eerie. Curnier and Gillespie bring out the youthful and playful side to their burgeoning relationship that is very convincing and they thoroughly deserve their curtain ovation. Curnier also does a stirling job doubling up as Hindley.
The other two leading dancers Hironao Takahashi and Hannah Bateman as Edgar and Isabella Linton complete the main group of soloists. Edgar’s character in the book always suffers in comparison to Heathcliff (whose wouldn’t!) and his rôle is a pretty thankless one, but Takahashi does it credit and is consistent throughout. Bateman has more scope to show her range of interpretation and the scenes in which she is degraded and humiliated by Heathcliff (basically “balletic rape”) are extremely powerful, as she is literally and emotionally manipulated by Heathcliff’s demonic urges.
The other stars of this production are the live music excellently played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of John Pryce-Jones and the evocative set design, simple but highly effective. The blasted tree symbolising the wild moors is a must and the changes of scene to either Wuthering Heights itself or Thrushcross Grange achieved without fuss.
As a Bronte Society member, this production has inspired me to read, yet again, the novel and to rediscover the delights of the genius that is Emily Bronte.
Runs until: Saturday 21 March 2015
Photo Credit: Merlin Hendy