Jane Eyre (Northern Ballet) – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre

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By Sandra Callard, March 2018

Premier dance company, Northern Ballet’s, new production of Jane Eyre has started its national tour at the Grand Theatre in Leeds.

Jane Eyre is a much-loved story, and it’s setting of Haworth is so clearly in the north that we rightly consider it our own. Any adaptation, therefore, is judged not only on its professional ability, but on the personification of its setting, and Northern Ballet is perfectly placed to do this justice.

Cathy Marston’s adaptation is as true as it gets to the story of love, cruelty and passion that we know so well. Jane is exquisitely danced by Dreda Blow, and her love for Rochester is apparent in her every step and movement.

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“Beautiful understatement”

Rochester’s agony also is felt and portrayed by Javier Torres, in particular at the ball at Thornfield as socialite Blanche Ingrams ingratiates herself perfectly with him, thanks to a beautiful and effective piece of dancing by Abigail Prudames.

The great skill – and indeed intent – of ballet is to effectively portray a story with movement but no words, and this ballet is the epitome of how to do just that. Not only is the story followed in outline, but the numerous small incidentals which pepper the novel are also shown in dance.

The taunting of Jane by her cousins in infancy, her rescue of Rochester as his bed is burning, and the wonderful performance by Sean Bates as Jane’s erstwhile suitor, the Reverend St John Rivers, is a beautiful understatement that shouts aloud Rivers’ haughty and demanding love of his calling. Sean Bates has progressed through the ranks of Northern Ballet and gets better with each performance, and this one is a little gem.

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“High drama”

The settings and the costumes are absolutely right in their bleakness, and the one flash of beauty at the ball is a feast for the eyes before the utility existence returns. The bright stab of red in the dress of Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha, as she bursts on the scene is also a shocking and brilliant addition to the action, and intensifies the drama.

I found the music unmemorable, even the more gentle pieces as Jane and Rochester declare their love, but somehow the understatement of the music seems right and unobtrusive, as a suitable companion to the high drama of the story.

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This ballet holds little in the way of surprises, but that is no bad thing. The story is so well known that the outcome is expected and welcomed, and Northern Ballet’s reputation is such that we would be astonished if it gave a poor performance. It delivers on every aspect of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, and indeed, even adds depth to it.

Northern Ballet is riding high at the moment, and its inclusion as one of only three ballet companies chosen to feature in the Tribute to Sir Kenneth MacMillan at the Royal Opera House in London recently solidified their place as a top class company. Their breathtaking performances of three of MacMillan’s short ballets were received with optimum and triumphant praise, and the company’s Jane Eyre has followed that lead.

images: Emma Kauldhar


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