They may have dropped the “theatre” from their logo (trebles all round at the printers I should imagine) but Northern Ballet’s output is still firmly anchored in vibrant dance drama: the ballet of the book. A biography of Casanova will be unveiled next spring, Jonathan Watkins’s meaty 1984 is at Sadler’s Wells all this week and the current national tour includes a new production of Jane Eyre, a textbook example of dance storytelling that honours its source without becoming a slave to it.
Cathy Marston’s streamlined narrative, which premiered in Doncaster last week, places the emphasis squarely on Jane’s transformation from downtrodden orphan (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) to independent woman (the excellent Dreda Blow).
The commissioned score by Philip Feeney is an inspired blend of original writing and Mendelssohn (Felix and Fanny) played with relish by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Patrick Kinmonth’s spare, monochrome designs — a patchwork of wintry fields, a rough sketch of cornices and fireplaces — conjure the book’s brooding atmosphere without breaking the bank.
Finding things for the corps de ballet to do is a perennial nightmare for choreographers. Liam Scarlett’s ponderous, literal-minded telling of Frankenstein for the Royal Ballet resorts to dancing parlourmaids and prostitutes but Marston makes more imaginative use of her ensemble. The house party at Thornfield is a natural pretext for group dances and there is some synchronised slate-rubbing for the Lowood orphans but she also uses the corps to amplify the novel’s themes with a stag line of six “D-men” who swirl around the tormented Jane, embodying her doubts and dilemmas.
Duets dominate but Marston is careful to vary their tone and tempi. Rochester, vividly danced by the darkly handsome Javier Torres, is all things to all women. His pas de deux with Blanche Ingram (Abigail Prudames) reduces him to a conventional porteur, while his tussles with the wife in the attic (a wildcat Victoria Sibson) are a lusty danse apache. The exchanges with Jane herself build from wary handshakes to the loved-up lifts of the proposal scene. In the ballet’s final moments the lovers’ roles are reversed, the blinded hero tripping and falling into his wife’s cradling arms.
Richmond Theatre, May 31-June 1, and touring, northernballet.com