Thursday, August 15, 2013

Shanghai Ballet's Jane Eyre Reviews

We have several articles today about the London performances of the Shanghai Ballet Jane Eyre production:
The performance, which attracted an audience of about 2,500 on the first day, was the overseas debut of the ballet since its premiere in China last November.
"We should celebrate the return of Jane Eyre to its British birthplace in the form of ballet," said Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK who watched the performance Wednesday evening.
"I am sure it will bring UK audience not only a familiar story but also new cultural and artistic enjoyment," he said.
London Mayor Boris Johnson hailed the ballet "a fantastic example of how we are growing ever closer as we share the best elements of our cultures" in his message for the performance. (...)
"We would like to bring a different Jane Eyre to the British audience, and prove that Chinese dancers could not only interpret Chinese stories, but foreign classics as well," said Xin Lili, director of the Shanghai Ballet Company. (...)
On the last scene, when Eyre, Rochester and his ex-wife removed their dresses and coats, sitting on the bench shoulder by shoulder, Xin Lili explained "it is meant to indicate that they finally removed their masks in the earthly life, and forgave each other." (LiXian and Ye Xin in People's Daily)
Londondance interviews Xin Lili, Artistic Director of the Shanghai Ballet:
It’s an obvious question, but why Jane Eyre?
Shanghai Ballet may be a Chinese company, but we are international in outlook. We want to move beyond purely local themes. Our main aim is to highlight our skills and talented dancers. We don’t want to be seen purely as a Chinese company telling Chinese stories. In fact, most of our repertory is international. Our team is very international too. The choreographer of Jane Eyre, Patrick de Bana is from Germany, for example. (...)
Does it worry you that it’s a story that people here know well from television and film as well as the novel, and may have very fixed ideas about?
Actually, that’s something that we were a little worried about from the very beginning of the creative process. Jane Eyre is very well known in China too. It is popular as a book, film and stage play, as is a lot of other English literature of the time, including her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights and things like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But we didn’t let that stop us. Although we like to do well-known works, and always respect the original source, we like to present them in a refreshing style and in a new way suitable for a worldwide audience. (Read more) (Interview by David Made)
Some reviews now:
The ballet’s narrative is hard to follow and there are sections that don’t make sense. For example, when Bertha holds her wedding dress at the end of Act I, the intention is to convey her unhappiness and illusion, but the red confetti she is showered with seems at odds with this idea. There are also a number of unclearly-defined characters who make fairly brief appearances and have little chance to assert themselves fully into the storyline. The music is an eclectic mix of composers, from Elgar and Debussy to Britten, and it works better in some sections than others.
We love Brontë’s book and the ballet makes us long to re-read it, with an undoubtedly renewed interest in the ‘mad’ and hidden character of Rochester’s long-suffering wife. The Shanghai Ballet’s performance is excellent and though the choreography could use a clearer narrative, Jane Eyre – in ballet form – is certainly worth a look. (Laurad in The Londonist)
This was after all a dramatic telling where the brush strokes (and hand claps) themselves loomed large within their own frames. If one didn’t know the novel there would have been little sense in attempting to seek any. This was an evening where one was left to appreciate moments; to discover parts rather than sharing a whole. At no point did I feel for long that I could sit back and relax because I found myself rarely being allowed to be wholly engaged.  (Meunier on Balletcoforum)
Fan Xiaofeng injects passion and energy as Bertha. As she dances with Rochester (a dynamic Wu Husheng), she embodies obsessive love. She clings to him. She raises her fists. She wraps her legs around him in desperation then slides to the floor.
This sits in sharp contrast to his tender interactions with Xiang Jieyan as Jane (although their affection never quite convinces, Xiang's dancing lacking sufficient emotion).
The plot strays a little from Brontë. Eyre’s school days are axed and her friend who dies in childhood, Helen Burns (Li Chenchen), appears instead as a ghost. This adds to the Gothic feel, Li being a cross between a wraith, a broken doll and Samara, the terrifying little girl from the horror film The Ring. (Rosamund Urwin in Evening Standard)
De Bana makes terrific use of gestural contrast - spiky, robotic phrasing gives way to slow, deliberate floating movement, often conducted en pointe. Given the amount of time the women spend on their toes they must have tendons of steel because there is never a wobble to be seen. While the ensemble race around the stage in various guises as ghosts or party girls or the flames that reduce Rochester’s home to smoking ruins the central characters exhibit a degree of control that is hugely impressive; their stillness is as eloquent as their motion.
Among the many spellbinding sequences is a pas de trois which exposes Rochester’s heartbreaking dilemma; his vestigial love for Bertha - and hers for him - is beautifully realised. A spectral solo infuses the atmosphere with an ethereal dread. The selection of music is eccentric, ranging from mediaeval to modern classical, Greensleeves to Samuel Barber and while each supports individual scenes it never quite comes together as a musical entirety. A fascinating evening. (Neil Norman in The Stage)
Patrick De Bana has followed Charlotte Brontë’s original novel fairly religiously but has given more emphasis to the role of Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester’s mad wife who he leaves locked up in the attic. This works extremely well and actually gives the piece its emotional heart – the distressing love me/leave me relationship between her and Rochester is beautifully drawn and rather overshadows Jane’s more coy approach to romance. (...)
Despite all its foibles, it was great to see a serious attempt at a new full-length ballet constructed in a mainly classical idiom. De Bana has intelligently thrown a new perspective onto an old story and has successfully created characters the audience care about. That’s not bad going. (Gerard Davis on Dancing Review)

A sense of dislocation is created by costumes and sets that gesture at various epochs while never committing to any one: Mrs Fairfax is in Victorian stripes and a bustle, but Jane’s elegant pinafore is Edwardian, while Rochester’s shiny black suit seems to have been borrowed from Mick Jagger circa 1977. Adding to the tragic, rather than novelistic, mood are the male dancers who cover the transitions between scenes, representing ghosts, rocks, or flames. Lit low so we cannot see their faces, and moving mostly in unison or simple alternation, they have more of the Greek chorus about them than a ballet corps.Their frenetic blend of martial art style and ballet, however, brought a welcome lift in tempo and energy, because choreographer Patrick de Bana has mostly gone for a token contemporary/ballet blend. This works best when it moves towards expressionism, or merges with Chinese traditional dance; at other moments the physical storytelling features a little too much running and hair-tossing. (...)
A major flaw is the lack of a unified score (...) nothing that helped to give the story momentum or add depth to the characters, while the deployment of instantly recognisable pieces like Clair de Lune or the Adagio for Strings or (oh dear) Greensleeves at significant moments only undermined the drama. (...)
It may be a triumph of diplomatic relations, but to audiences raised on Kenneth MacMillan, this ballet is just too bland to convince.  (Hanna Weibye on The Arts Desk)
On the John Ross Ballet Gallery you can see some pictures of the production (like the one on the right).

As we reported, the Thug Notes approach to Jane Eyre has been quite popular. The Independent interviews creator Sparky Sweets:
Sparky believes academia is “enshrouded by a veil of unnecessarily convoluted terminology and intellectual one-upmanship”, which negates the whole point of education.
“Instead of promoting the universality of these works, they are building them up to a virtually inaccessible plane and saying 'If you want to truly understand classical literature, you have to get on my level.' So Thug Notes is my way of trivialising academia’s attempt at making literature exclusive by showing that these ideas can be communicated to people on the opposite side of the social stratum.”
In his take on Jane Eyre, Sparky brings the classic English novel back to the streets, explaining how Jane is sent away from her “twisted Aunt Reed and her punk ass cousins, who ain’t showin’ no love for his girl, Jane,” before going on eventually to marry Rochester, when they “have a little G of they own.” (Miranda Dobson)
A couple of Pasadena writers choose Jane Eyre as 'a novel that keeps the home fires burning'. In Pasadena Weekly:
Michelle HunevenI’m very old-fashioned, and I think the most romantic book ever written is Jane Eyre [by Charlotte Brontë]. It’s just so beautifully written; it’s about love — the incredible conversation these two people have, their way of teasing, approaching and avoiding each other. When Mr. Rochester has proposed to Jane and they’re to be married, she begins to avoid him. It’s never written, but of course it’s about the incredible sexual tension. They’re living in the same house, and they’re about to be married. When he sees her, he pinches her. It’s so subtle, sexy, wonderful and repressed.
Is there something about the heroine you particularly like?Jane Eyre narrates it in her modest and hyper-intelligent voice. She’s a terrible tease to Mr. Rochester; she uses her role as his subservient — as his daughter’s governess — to be prim and withholding to the point it drives him crazy. She’s very sly and knows exactly what she’s doing, and they both enjoy it very much.
You think there’s hot passion underneath all that?No doubt about it, really hot passion. She leaves Mr. Rochester when she finds out about the wife in the attic. She ends up on the doorstep of people who are distant cousins. One of them is St. John. He doesn’t love Jane Eyre, and he wants to marry her because he’s not erotically attracted to her. Jane Eyre is forced to make a choice. She likes him well enough, [but] she does not love him, and she eventually she goes back to Mr. Rochester.
Really, it’s a choice about do we want to be good and chaste and not give in to carnal love, or do we believe in passionate love? Jane Eyre is a huge vote for passionate, physical love.
Victoria PattersonLove is just a huge theme in literature, one of the biggest themes in literature; it’s in so many books. [Charlotte Bronte’s] Jane Eyre is a sweeping, romantic epic love story. What I love about it is that the heroine is such a strong intense female character, so self-aware. Usually, at that time and in that genre, women tended to be more objects, more victims. She’s not gorgeous, she’s just plain. There’s also the class thing going on because she’s not his class, there are lots of obstacles. But she knows who she is, she doesn’t kowtow to anyone. She’s pretty incredible.
Do you remember when you first read it?I think it must have been high school, and then I recently have been listening to it in the car, on a CD from the library. Each time I listen or read it, it just sweeps me away.
Is there something about the writing that transports you?She’s so direct. It’s also very operatic — there are highs and lows, and low lows. [Jane] becomes a beggar at one point, homeless. She leaves and has nowhere to go. Right after she finds out about the woman [Rochester’s first wife], she goes off. Hungry and cold, she ends up on the doorstep of the family that saves her. It’s so crazy, so much stuff goes on.
This is a great theme in literature, the quest for love. She doesn’t settle, she wants the real deal. There’s really a soul connection [between Jane and Rochester] that you get through their dialogue.
New Statesman uses Jane Eyre to discuss the change in perceptions about parenthood:
Until quite recently, parenthood usually went without saying: barring cases of moral or medical mishap, it was just what followed from marriage and not a significant story in its own right. Compared to the passions of childhood, it seemed only the counterpart or background; where there was a child, there were or had been parents. Compared to the spectacular attachments of romantic love, parenthood was the unremarkable sequel. In the final chapter of Jane Eyre – the chapter that begins with “Reader, I married him” – the birth of Jane’s and Mr Rochester’s son is mentioned in passing: “When his firstborn was put into his arms . . .” Nothing in the narrative leads up to it (no thought of a possible child; no mention of a pregnancy) and nothing comes after it. Parenthood is not the start of a story. (Rachel Bowlby)
E!Online's Beauty Police describes as follows Rooney Mara's look in a recent photocall:
The hair is simply dreadful. It looks like she's wearing a live boa made out of human hair, and the severe part down the middle makes her look like she's auditioning for a Jane Eyre remake.  (Janna Mandell)
Independent's Tonight (SouthAfrica) reviews the novel The Taker by Alma Katsu:
If Interview with the Vampire and Wuthering Heights were your thing, it’s safe to say that The Taker will be right up your alley. Alma Katsu gradually unfolds her saga, revealing mystery upon mystery within a lush setting that spans centuries. (Nerine Dorman)
Horror Movies recommended in The Huffington Post:
When an innocent, wide-eyed girl spends her fourteenth year reading nothing but the Brontës, V.C. Andrews, and Stephen King, something happens to her brain.
At least, something happened to mine.
The gothic Jane Eyre and the mad Wuthering Heights got all muddled up with Flowers in the Attic and It and The Shining and Carrie. Those books ate my innocence--I was way too young to be reading some of the things I read. I guess you could call my new book, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, the permanent damage left behind by that reading. But I regret nothing. Reading horror so young gave me an edge. A bite. It sparked something in me...something odd and dark and powerful. (...)
This is not to say I don't have a gothic passion for crumbling, tumbledown mansions. Manderley in Rebecca, Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. I live for malicious housekeepers and mad women in attics. (April Genevieve Tucholke)
Welcome to Blogging Heaven! is reading Wide Sargasso Sea; The American reader publishes a 1848 letter from Charlotte Brontë to William Smith Williams; LouReviews takes a look to different Jane Eyre film adaptations; Cantinho da Mã (in Portuguese) and derkenar (in Turkish) reviews the original Charlotte Brontë novel; on the Parsonage Facebook Wall is a new album with pictures of the recent Brontë Society West Yorkshire meeting at East Riddlesden Hall.

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