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Northern Ballet – Jane Eyre 

New Theatre
Tuesday 24th April 2018

Any trips from Northern Ballet to Cardiff are always very welcome. Whilst its usually just once a year, the choice in new dance work is always a delight and full of surprises. Last year we were seduced by a brilliant Casanova, but now a trip to the Moors was in order…

The prospect of setting Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel to dance sounds like an intimidating one. Look no further than Cathy Morris, who has choreographed what has been billed as an award-winning and crowd-pleasing ballet. Yet, is it worth the hype?

Jane Eyre Ballet

Amazingly, it’s a brief two hours, something which National Theatre/Bristol Old Vic found hard to do with their two night, then compressed three hour Eyre. Whilst that production had many balletic moments, it was also trying to be a work of dance, theatre and music, all clashing into one other. Yet, here is the real ballet and it all whips along at a decent pace. Those who might not know the story (I’m up to date thanks to the National and a BBC version) would be advised to get to know it, as it’s one of the best of its era. 

As I expected, there would be two Jane’s in the ballet (one older and the other younger). Her plight as an orphan never defines her, helping her grow into a strong young woman. Never the pushover, she falls head over heels for Mr Rochester after years of horrid people in her life. Though she knows something is troubling at his estate. Wedding bells are soon heard, though an old flame (who never went away) comes back to haunt Rochester. Jane flees, though will she ever come back?

This is an absorbing contemporary ballet, even for those who are familiar with the source material. The fleeting moments where odd footwork and furious gesticulation help emulate the characters feelings are inspired and brilliant (the disruption at the wedding is a great example). There is wit in the dance work, Rochester pointing his foot out at Jane when they first meet is an abrupt chuckle. There is abstract tenderness between the lovers and Rochester frequently strikes a pose similar to Laura Palmer’s “Meanwhile” pose from Twin Peaks. 

The music compiled and composed by Philip Feeney is a balm for the dance. Some music from the era lingers in the ear and there is an accessibility and delight to it as well. The dramatic bits when Jane sees Rochester’s bed on fire and the wedding scene has some well earned mania in then and the percussion and piano (though just a keyboard here) are also welcome. Sets by Patrick Kinmonth vividly depict the Moors with cloths filled with ink and water colour. Lighting by Alistair West conjures up with dramatic bite the story has and is a mood maker when ever needed.

Jane Eyre 3

Dance wise, there is some pristine work here. Mature Jane is taken by Abigail Prudames, with moments of resilience and mastery in the lead role. Her gracious poise and angry bounds are what make the role a treasure to play. Mlindi Kulashe is the dashing, though flawed Rochester. There is an incredible physicality that he brings, with footwork so swift that you’ll miss it if you blink. The chemistry between them had flashes of seething romance, when ever they danced together. Ayami Miyata as the younger Jane was also strident in the role, even if she came and went. The handling of her frequent abuse, is met with child like revenge and an aspired sense of the younger Jane. A fine troupe of dancers in the supporting roles and background characters, were also finally tuned to the productions and they seem to all enjoy every moment of it.

As for some technical issues, I only have two concerns. One, is that we need a playbill on the night, so we know who exactly is playing which role (the programme did not state any of this). This is a huge help for critics and I even found other audience members confused. Secondly, the required temperature of heating in the theatre for the dancers, makes it uncomfortable for the audience. It being late April, it was humid enough and others agreed it was far too hot. 

Although this did not win me over the same way their Casanova did, it is still a marvellous night at the ballet. 

Rating: ***

Jane Eyre continues at the New Theatre untill 28 April 2018, then on tour. 

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Photo Credit: Emma Kauldhar & Northern Ballet

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