Wuthering Heights – Review – Bradford Alhambra
Wuthering Heights – Review
Bradford Alhambra, November 2015
by Sandra Callard
Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights has opened at the Bradford Alhambra Theatre, the creation of NB’s multi-talented artistic director, David Nixon. The show brings alive the once-in-a-lifetime novel of Emily Brontë with shattering impact. With music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, it is consequently a masterly production.
The wild Yorkshire Moors above Haworth where Wuthering Heights is set is powerfully represented at the opening, as the adult, mourning figure of Heathcliffe appears, and remembers the distant happy days of his youth with Cathy. The young Heathcliffe and Cathy are wonderfully portrayed by Jeremy Curnier and Rachel Gillespie. Their wild, abandoned dance is mesmerising and as a result it epitomises the stark nature of the terrain.
The adult Heathcliffe is danced by Tobias Batley with intense power and athleticism. His all-consuming love for Cathy is balanced only by his hatred of everyone else. He has a particularly hypnotic eye when he stares in madness at the audience. It is disturbing and compelling, but it is also quite wonderful.
The adult Cathy is danced by Martha Leebolt. She is an exquisite and sinuous performer who almost has dance coming from her fingertips. If you saw her in Northern Ballet’s production of Cleopatra you will know what to expect from her.
She can depict happiness, love or terror with the slightest movement of her elegant frame. Her dances with Heathcliffe are mesmerizing. As a couple they gel perfectly. From the moment they meet it is clear that they will be partners in an obsessive and glorious love. When the book quotes Cathy as saying “I AM Heathcliffe”, that is exactly what Leebolt personifies.
The sets are sparse enough to touch on the vastness and bleakness of the moors. This is how it should be to anyone who has journeyed to Top Withens on the moors above Haworth. This is the place Emily walked and received her inspiration. Consequently, no stage could replicate the disturbing and elating power of it.
The artistic flair of David Nixon is shown in the costumes. They are true to the era yet still give the freedom to dance. The wedding of Cathy and Edgar Linton is particularly beautiful, with candy colours for bridesmaids and guests. Schonberg’s music is as good as would be expected from such a maestro, and is haunting and compelling. From the opening strains of the overture, the music director, John Pryce-Jones, presents us with a perfect scenario for what we are about to see.
Northern Ballet’s reputation has grown to such an extent that audiences expect perfection. Certainly in this powerful production, that is exactly what they get. From the premier dancers to the apprentices, it is flawless. A book such as Wuthering Heights excites the imagination to such an extent that to transfer that faithfully to stage, and indeed to ballet, is such a leap that only the best can pull it off. Nixon and Schonberg are the best, and it shows.
It was particularly moving before the curtain went up. David Nixon came on stage to dedicate the opening performance to Jonathan Ollivier, a wonderful dancer who first created the role of Heathcliffe. Jonathan was tragically killed this year in an accident on his way to the theatre. There was a chance to donate to the trust fund for his two young sons on leaving. As a result, it was a fitting addition to a production of such power.
images: Emma Kauldhar