Jane Eyre – Northern Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 15 May 2018

Eyre to the throne

I’ve got a Jane in the neck. Javier Torres & Dreda Blow in Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre. Photo by Dave Morgan

Nineteenth century British literary fiction  has something of a low profile when it comes to ballet. It’s surprising really – perhaps everyone’s too busy doing Shakespeare remakes – but Cathy Marston has proved there’s plenty of potential with her adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for Northern Ballet.

The narrative is fairly true to the novel but, in all honesty, the first half fell flat. The choreography looked fussy, with lots of empty-gestured flat palms being thrust about. It was confusing to have someone playing Young Jane (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) who suddenly turned into Woman Jane (Dreda Blow) despite looking the same age. There was also a group of six men roaming about who appeared at vital moments for no obvious reason – symbols of patriarchal oppression maybe, but it wasn’t clear. Things perked up a bit when Javier Torres’ commanding Mr Rochester cropped up but his budding relationship with Ms Eyre lacked tension.

The second half, however, was way better. There seemed to be a lot less faffing about and a real focus on getting some emotion into the choreography. The ball scene worked brilliantly as Mrs Rochester wannabee Blanche Ingram (played beautifully by Abigail Prudames) teased the life out of Jane with her flirting of the man they both wanted. The pas de deux that followed between Jane and Rochester was even better; full of fire, big lifts and more than a touch of the Manons, it brought the whole ballet up another level. Jane’s brief affair with St. John was a tad lame (as it is in the book, to be fair), but the finale with Jane and the blinded Rochester was deeply moving and superbly acted out.

This ballet might well have been called Rochester, though; Torres dominated the show with a performance of strength, charisma and total persuasion. Blow’s Jane danced prettily and was an excellent foil but it never felt like she took control of the situation until the very end, when he needed her help. Likewise, Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha was not the ominous presence she might have been and made far less impact than Rachael Gillespie’s boundless energy as Jane’s pupil Adele Varens.

Patrick Kinmonth’s grey-slashed designs were simple but effective, as were his costumes. Philip Feeney’s score evoked a fine sense of period with some good tunes along the way and the narrative was generally easy to follow. I do hope the watching Prince Edward (patron of the Company) enjoyed himself as much as the rest of us.

Northern Ballet perform Jane Eyre at Sadler’s Wells until 19 May 2018. See the Sadler’s Wells website for tickets.

Gerard Davis

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