Sunday, 22 November 2015

Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights in Bradford

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Northern Ballet, Wuthering Heights, Alhambra, Bradford 21 Nov 2015

I inserted a photo of Top Withens near Haworth into my review of Northern Ballet's performance of Wuthering Heights at the Sheffield Lyceum as it is said to be the inspiration for Emily Brontë's novel. Haworth is in the metropolitan district of Bradford and the Alhambra is the nearest theatre to that township. No doubt that is one of the reasons why Northern Ballet premièred David Nixon's ballet in that theatre to less than ecstatic reviews at the time (see Ismene Brown's Lost in the Moors 25 Sept 2002 in the Daily Telegraph and Judith Mackrell's Wuthering Heights 25 Sept 2002 in the Guardian).

The reviews have become somewhat kinder over the years, at least in the local press (see Emma Clayton's Northern Ballet brings Cathy and Heathcliff back home 12 Nov 2015 Telegraph and Argus and Yvette Huddleston's Review: Northern Ballet's Wuthering Heights 18 Nov 2015 Yorkshire Post) though not necessarily among balletomanes (see Emma's What we shouldn't try to tame in Balletical). Emma is particularly preceptive in her review, She begins with the observation:
"I could well be alone in my commentary of this ballet. I cannot be representative of the good ladies who rushed to the front of the stage to offer a standing ovationat the close of this performance. Then perhaps this review be considered a response rather than critique – and here is the enigma of Wuthering Heights and the creative challenge of this particular story ballet."
And concludes:
"I know it: I have been unduly harsh on Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights – a ballet that may please many, many people. I hope it does. My response is indeed less critical judgement than personal experience. That is the thing with Wuthering Heights and with Heathcliff, who we really shouldn’t try to tame."
A lot of choreographers other than Nixon have tries to tame Wuthering Heights. Cathy Marston has created one for the Berne Ballet which you can see in this YouTube video. Deborah Dunn has created Nocturnes which is said to be based on the novel (see Paula Citron's Cathy and Heathcliff in dance 12 Jan 2011 The Globe and Mail). Kader Belarbu made Hurlevent for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2002 which was reviewed by Patricia Boccadoro for Culture Kiosque 22 April 2002. Although Northern Ballet's version seems to do well enough in the English regions, none of those productions have really taken off.

Like Carmen which I discussed in Au Revoir but not Adieu 19 Nov 2015 Wuthering Heights has been very difficult to transpose into dance and probably for the same reason. Everyone loves Bizet's score and Mérimée, Each has his or her own interpretation of those works which seem to be violated by the choreography even of the calibre or Petit, Alonso or Acosta. It is the same with Brontë:
"The foundations of music, structure, costume, and above all, choreography, bore atone I disagreed with. This was not my Wuthering Heights. They lent to a feeling of romantic melodrama in classical gowns – when everything about Wuthering Heights for me is about being hungry and not having washed for days. Heathcliff – my Heathcliff – is full of dominance, violence and childhood hurt – yet the worst he does in Act I is knock a shuttlecock off play and drum on the table."
My own review of Nixon's work was much kinder than Emma's and I think that is because I am not really a fan of the novel and had no preconceptions for him to knock. I prefer Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sir Walter Scott and William Makepeace Thackeray to the Brontës any day of the week and if Nixon had made a ballet out of Emma or Persuasion my reaction might well have been the same as Emma's.

All that circumambulation is an introduction to the fact that I was at The Alhambra yesterday for the last performance of the current revival of Wuthering Heights with the same cast that I had seen in Sheffield. That was Northern Ballet's A Team: Tobias Batley as Heathcliff, Martha Leebolt as Cathy, Hironao Takahashi as Edgar, Hannah Bateman as Isabella and Pippa Moore as Ellen. The last performance of a flagship work by the company's stars after a successful provincial tour should have been brilliant and it was certainly OK. Bateman, now perhaps the strongest female dancer in the company, showed her considerable talent and expertise as a dancer and actor as the injured Isabella. It is a complex role that perhaps only she could do well. Takehashi showed his experience and authority in his role. Light, energetic and effervescent, Rachael Gillespie was a delight to watch and she was aptly rewarded in the reverence including a "brava" from me roared from the back of the stalls. Those three dancers made my evening.

Batley and Leeboilt were good too as they always are but their performance lacked fire. It was like watching World Ballet Day or even company class. Old ladies like me who sacrifice their widow's mite for ballet (now increased by 133% - see The Increasing Prince of Friendship 14 Oct 2015) expect to float when we leave the theatre as I did on Friday when I saw Ballet Black (see Ballet Black's Return to Leeds 21 Nov 2015) or on 12 Nov 2015 when I left the Linbury after seeing Phoenix (see The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015). The reason I floated was that Ballet Black and Phoenix danced as though they were inspired as did Bateman, Takehashi and Gillespie yesterday.  I swapped a ticket in the centre of row B of the Stanley and Audrey Burton for yesterday's performance of Ballet Black for one at the side of the top of the auditorium for Friday so that I could see the last performance of Wuthering Heights in Bradford. Had it not been for  Bateman, Takehashi and Gillespie I think I would have regretted the exchange.

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