Choreographer: David Nixon
Reviewer: Dan English
Northern Ballet returns to The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury this week, bringing with them a stunning revival of their ballet, Wuthering Heights, based on the novel by Emily Bronte.
Telling the story of the tragic lovers Cathy and Heathcliff, Northern Ballet conjures an entertaining evening of entertainment that combines the finesse of ballet with the intricacies of stage storytelling perfectly.
The performance focuses on both the emotions of Cathy and Heathcliff and of their younger selves, with the choreography (by David Nixon) proving to be a delight.
As the ballet begins, the introduction of Young Cathy and Youth Heathcliff (Rachael Gillespie and Jeremy Curnier respectively) highlights the intimacy that bonds the pair throughout their lives in the story. The connection that is felt between the younger versions of the characters is a testament to the performances of Gillespie and Curnier, who use their bodies effectively to tell the story of their characters’ blossoming affection for each other.
When the plot progresses, Cathy and Heathcliff reach their older selves, and this is told well by Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley. From their first moments, as they tumble onto the stage with immaculate grace, replacing their younger selves (which in itself is a subtle yet intelligent piece of choreography), they maintain the spark established by their juniors. This continues as the pairing goes through the phases of their volatile, and ultimately tragic, love story, highlighted particularly when Cathy marries Edgar (Hironao Takahashi).
Leebolt portrays Cathy’s inner turmoil perfectly through the second half, with her frantic movements clearly displaying the frantic mental state of her character. In addition, the jealous rages that Batley’s Heathcliff demonstrates is striking, with the character – and dancer – creating a powerful stage presence throughout. Their chemistry is such a success that the culmination of their love plot really does evoke a strong emotional reaction from the audience.
Takahashi is strong as Edgar, portraying the rich wooer of Cathy, assisting in the downfall of Cathy and Heathcliff’s story. His shift in character, from just plain greedyto something more intimate, displaying his care and affection for Cathy towards the ballet’s end, is evident and well defined. Indeed, Takahashi forms part of a tremendous ballet troupe that gives a masterclass of the dance form throughout. It is the entire troupe that drives this ballet through the dense Bronte plot and it must be noted that the simple yet effective storytelling that Nixon employs in his choreography does not alienate the audience, making this an extremely accessible ballet performance.
Music director John Pryce-Jones creates, with his talented orchestra, a series of music pieces that add effective intensity to the performance, particularly in the production’s more fraught moments. Indeed, this performance is certainly strengthened by the music that accompanies it. An example of this is the suspense the music creates in the ballet’s opening as Heathcliff, and his inner suffering, is revealed, with the tempo allowing for more frantic choreography, but also adding greater impact during Cathy’s sudden reveal.
A further impressive aspect of Northern Ballet’s revival is the set and lighting design that is included. There is no need for huge, lavish, set pieces, not merely because it would limit the choreography, but because the choreography is so detailed and so vivid that it tells the story without it. The more subtle pieces of set, such as the single tree and the smoke that helps to set the scene on the unsettling Moors, have a much greater impact, and do not detract from the stunning performances from the entire group. The troupe also interact nicely with the props on stage, adding to the characterisation of Heathcliff and Hindley (Mlindi Kulashe) in particular.
This is a truly stunning revival that condenses the Bronte text into a much more manageable, and arguably enjoyable, adaptation, which should be commended. There are a couple of minor timing errors, but this does not detract from the performance as a whole. What really is impressive about the ballet is the intricacy, the subtly, of the performance, and how slight body movements can have the greatest impact without having to utter a single word.
As the snow falls at the end of the ballet, this show is certainly not one to be frozen out. A triumph.
Runs until 10 October 2015 | Image: Guy Farrow