Tag Archives: Northern Ballet

Fresh Eyre


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Friday 10th June, 2016


Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel has been adapted by Northern Ballet for their own purposes and, intrigued to find out how you translate something that is entirely words into an art form that has no words at all, I settled into my seat.

Choreographer and director Cathy Marston blends classical moves with contemporary dance, creating some effective and succinct storytelling – although I will state that if you’re unfamiliar with the plot you might find some scenes baffling.  The synopsis in the programme will keep you up-to-speed, so don’t let lack of balletic knowledge (Guilty!) or ignorance of the book (Not guilty, but it’s been a while) put you off this excellent show.

All the highlights of the eponymous heroine’s story are here: her tormented schooldays, the death of her best friend, becoming a governess, meeting Mr Rochester and falling for him… The action moves on at quite a lick.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw is Young Jane, enduring ill treatment and grief – and expressing them beautifully.  Hannah Bateman takes over the role – and is no less graceful and expressive.  It is her scenes with Rochester (the strikingly handsome Javier Torres) that are the highlights and the beating heart of this production.  Torres is an electrifying presence.  Costume designer Patrick Kinmonth dresses him in a tall top hat and a full-length greatcoat.  Torres stalks around, whipping the stage with his riding crop.  He uses his leg to direct his servants and to keep Jane in her place.  It is an expression of power, emphasising his sleekness, at times equine, at others phallic.  Together, Rochester and Eyre are breath-taking.  He does a thing where his foot knocks against hers.  It’s a repeated gesture that crops up a couple of times.  Later (SPOILER ALERT!) when he is blind, Jane uses the foot-knock on him so he knows it is her.  It’s a touching and dramatically satisfying moment.

Victoria Sibson claws her way around as the deranged Bertha from the attic, and there is some amusing character-dancing from Pippa Moore as literal busybody Mrs Fairfax.

Doing a lot of the work is the music – compiled and composed by Philip Feeney – plenty of sinuous woodwinds, agitated strings and yearning horns.  Conducted by John Pryce Jones, the orchestra, provides the aural accompaniment to what is otherwise a purely visual show.  It is gorgeous stuff, complementing the action and augmenting the emotion.

Patrick Kinmouth’s set has a backdrop of a bleak landscape, crisscrossed by paths like scars.  Painted cloths are used as flats, giving loose impressions of place: buildings, countryside…  The monochrome of the set is foiled by instances of colour, in the costumes and the lighting (courtesy of Alastair West).

A treat to see and to hear, the production builds to a final scene that is moving and sweepingly romantic.  A show that gives us accessible, affecting ballet and a story well told; a triumph for Northern Ballet.


A well-deserved sit down. The magnificent Javier Torres as Mr Rochester (Photo: Emma Kauldhar)

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butterfly


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 2nd June, 2015


The evening begins with a brief classical piece, Perpetuum Mobile, with which Northern Ballet sets out its stall. This is the appetiser before the main event and it’s a joyous display of skill and a celebration of both the art form and the human body. It’s all about technique rather than any drama but it acclimatises me for what’s to come.

In a complete change of approach, Madame Butterfly begins with a highly stylised scene in which Butterfly, as a geisha, performs for three American naval officers. She’s a private dancer, a dancer for money – but one of the three men in white enters negotiations to marry her. So begins a romance. The fragile, shy Butterfly is coaxed out of her shell by Pinkerton (a dashing Javier Torres) in a lengthy pas de deux throughout which she runs the gamut of emotions. It’s a remarkable moment. By this point I am accustomed to hearing Puccini’s famous score without libretto, without soaring operatic voices, without voices at all, in fact!

The translation from opera to ballet works superbly. David Nixon’s choreography is expressive, blending and contrasting Western ballet with Japanese motifs. The set (by Steven Wilkins and Griz Pedley) is heavily influenced by Japanese prints (all the rage at the time when the piece is set), and the show is sumptuously lit by Alastair West.

Rachael Gillespie’s Butterfly is as delicate as her insect namesake. We see her come out of a cocoon of shyness, thanks to her love for Pinkerton, and we also see she has a sense of humour. At the piece’s climax, Butterfly’s suicide (hope that’s not a spoiler!) is ritualised and stylised much as the opening scene, but none the less powerful for it. An emotive and breath-taking performance.

There is excellent support from Ayami Miyata as Butterfly’s maid Suzuki, Ashley Dixon as Goro and Sean Bates as Sharples, who each bring characterisation to their roles in seemingly effortless and economical gestures. Mlindi Kulashe makes a bold impression as wealthy suitor Prince Yamadori.

The show is a feast for the eye and the ear. Puccini’s searing strains are well served by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, under the baton of Nathan Fifield, with instrumentation taking the place of the voices. It all adds up to a magnificent demonstration, and a thoroughly engaging piece of story-telling. I am not a ballet aficionado but I was utterly absorbed and moved by this powerful and accessible production.

Hello, sailors! Mlindi Kulashe and Sean Bates (Photo: Emma Kauldhar)

Hello, sailors! Mlindi Kulashe and Sean Bates (Photo: Emma Kauldhar)