Review - Villette at the West Yorkshire Playhouse - *Review by Richard Wilcocks* Charlotte Brontë’s *Villette*, which was recognised by knowledgeable readers in nineteenth century Brussels as a close parallel...
15 hours ago
Early reviewers of Jane Eyre complained that Charlotte Brontë’s protagonist was impossible to like. Ironic, intractable, angry and culpably plain, Jane stood stubbornly apart from the blueprint of Victorian femininity. It’s a tribute to Cathy Marston, in her new work for Northern Ballet, that she’s choreographed a Jane who is similarly emancipated from the conventional tropes of the ballet heroine.The Reviews Hub gives it 4 out of 5 stars too.
Dividing the role between young and adult Jane, Marston shows a novelist’s touch in building the layers of her character. Antoinette Brooks-Daw is superb in the early scenes, both frozen and furious, and Marston’s choreography vibrates with suggestive detail. As Jane battles against her bullying Aunt Reed, her jagged, sideways jump, her bullishly lowered head, her pummelling fists convey not only her volcanic temper but also her quickness of mind.
Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Young Jane and Matthew Koon as John. Photograph: Emma Kauldhar
Those fists remain Jane’s leitmotif even when she’s grown up – clenched quietly behind her back as she resists a hostile world. Marston does nothing by rote, each detail feels specially minted, from the ritualistic gesture with which Jane encloses her face, as if protecting her independence of mind, to the slow, poignant dip into plié as she pirouettes towards Rochester and first feels the inexorable tug of sexual passion.
Dreda Blow’s performance builds steadily, a moving combination of turbulence and reserve and she has a fine partner in Javier Torres’ Rochester, who manages to convey some of the sheer sardonic force of his character’s presence. There’s a moment when Rochester, lounging in his chair, bars Jane’s exit with his outstretched foot and even in 2016 it feels like a dangerous breach of social taboo.
Marston’s ballet succeeds where it matters most: in the creation of her lovers. She gets excellent support from Philip Feeney’s score – a subtle and very danceable blend of original and 19th-century music – and also from Patrick Kinmonth’s set, with its lively delineations of domestic interiors and wild moorland. Marston’s handling of Brontë’s framing narrative is at its best when most economical: the chorus of slate-scratching pupils at Lowood school; the symbolic frieze of dancers at Rochester’s party. (Judith Mackrell) (Read more)
As opposed to traditional ballet, the works of Northern Ballet rely heavily on characterisation and narrative. In the case of Jane Eyre, there is a lot of narrative to convey and at times, this appears to be a hindrance. Although the company manages to deliver their story without too much of a check-list feel as they work their way through the long story, due to the constraints of the piece there feels to be no real climax, no contrast. The story is essentially played out in a series of pas-de-deux and the lack of corp-de-ballet is a noticeable loss. However, the piece really comes into its own during the ensemble performances; the orphans producing some effectively stylized sequences in the schoolhouse scenes.The Yorkshire Post is enthusiastic about it:
Dreda Blow portrays Brontë’s most famous heroine to perfection. Jane’s turmoil and innermost thoughts are played out in carefully crafted and beautifully executed movements. There is a sensitivity to Blow’s portrayal, highlighting the fragility of the character who turns out to be a strong feminist, ultimately rescuing herself. The performance is enhanced by Cathy Marston’s addition of the ‘D-Men’, characters the choreographer has created to incorporate more male dancers into the piece, representing the demons in Jane’s mind and the men who have deserted her.
At times, this gives an abstract interpretation to the piece. The storytelling being less conventional with much use made of symbolism. There are some real strengths within the piece: the effective fire scene, which adds an injection of drama, where Mr. Rochester attempts to save his wife; the wedding, which highlights the contrast of Jane in her virginal white dress against the deranged wife in her devilish red dress; the morphing of young Jane into older Jane; the abstract hills in the background, a constant reminder of the wilderness associated with the Brontë’s writing. Although the dancing itself is beautiful, with a very powerful pairing between Jane and her love interest Mr. Rochester (the perfectly cast Javier Torres), which borders on contemporary dance and has a real intensity to it, there may not be enough to satisfy the hard-core traditionalists.
However, this new direction is welcomed (especially if the sell-out run is anything to go by) and Northern Ballet is very much at the forefront in securing a place for the future of ballet. If by taking on a new approach and diversifying in order to secure funding, which allows the development of original works such as this then it must be applauded and be given a chance to continue. (Beverley Haigh)
What we get here, and it is admirably done, is a series of mood shifts, at times almost forensic, but they tell the story perfectly, and (apart from Ms. Blow’s consistently watchable interpretation) if you had to pick a moment that demonstrates what a fine company Northern are, and how it encourages their dancers, then it would be Victoria Sibson’s breath-taking solo as Bertha Mason meets her tragic end. This is edge of the seat stuff and a production that deserves to be kept in repertoire for many years to come.The Guardian's Children's Books section lists '10 songs you didn't know were inspired by literature', the first of which is
Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush is inspired by Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontëPatricia Park's Re Jane is on The New York Times' list of new paperbacks to check out. Elena Reads Books vlogs about Jane Eyre. La Gata en el Desván (in Spanish) reviews Anna Casanovas's Herbarium.
Perhaps the most famous song with literary references, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights relays the tale of Emily Brontë’s gothic novel of the same name. Told through the point of view of Catherine during a ghostly visit to her old house, she calls to her lover, Heathcliff, to let her in through the window. Kate Bush’s operatic voice and quirky dancing conveys the eerie spirit of the scene from chapter three of Wuthering Heights when she is seen by the new tenant, Mr Lockwood.
Fun fact: Kate Bush and Emily Brontë share the same birthday. (Kuba Shand-Baptiste)