Original review: The Reviews Hub
Brontë and ballet in balance
Balancing Brontë and ballet is brave: poised between prose and pas, pathetic fallacy and precise footwork, narrative voice and choreographic action, Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman of a ballet that’s as brave, and beautiful, as Brontë’s novel.
Following the ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’ Jane through her life, from unloved orphan to adored and independent wife, Cathy Marsten’s choreographic voice is as distinct as her character. With all the foundations of classical dance, there’s a freedom of form that echoes the ‘independent will’ of our proto-feminist protagonist: flexed feet, développés that unfold and then re-furl, floor work, and women dancing on flat as well as en pointe. The effect is a choreographic language that, like Philip Feeney’s evocative and affecting score, feels classical, lyrical, and full of character.As the supposedly plain principal character, Abigail Prudames is pure and expressive, her passion – of the flirting and fighting kind – suppressed by an open palm even as her love attempts to pull it out. Wonderfully, this adaptation allows Jane the space to develop at Lowood without forcing her through those formative years, even casting a ‘Young Jane’, a youthful, yearning but determined Ayami Miyata, to fully flesh out every nuance of movement and temperament, and the pas de deux with Miki Akuta, her ill-fated friend there, is a triumph of innocent tenderness.
Throughout, she’s followed, lifted, and thrown by a corps of characterless men that morph into all the male characters that, as choreographer Cathy Marsten summarises, ‘die on her, let her down, and lie to her’, and Jane defies them, and, as they collectively evoke, death, at every turn, even physically fighting them off to find her way over the moorland to save her love. And as her love, Mlindi Kulashe is the rich, macho, chauvinist Rochester of the novel, his rond de jambes evoking the visceral masculinity that so intimidates Jane, but as their intimacy develops, it’s a control he convincingly renounces in favour of fairness: in their partnering, they are counterparts, not a princess and her consort as in many classical pas de deux.
Elsewhere, Antoinette Brooks-Daw is a delightfully girlish Adele, her allegro light and acting charming, Dominique Larose is a dotty but devoted Mrs Fairfax, her feet dancing out her underlying flightiness, and Mariana Rodrigues’ Bertha Mason is a red as well as a wild woman, her ragged red dress raging against the otherwise greyed design. Patrick Kinmouth’s muted, minimalist set smoulders in the climactic scene, and, with smoke and Alastair West’s incandescent and atmospheric lighting, it’s an impressively dramatic crescendo.
Jane Eyre is dance drama with joie de vivre and determination, and though Jane may find she is ‘poor, obscure, plain, and little’, Northern Ballet have found the purity, beauty, power and love in Brontë’s novel.