|The Lowry Theatre, Salford, Greater Manchester|
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Northern Ballet Jane Eyre 9 June 2018, 19:30, The Lowry
Yesterday, Northern Ballet gave their last performance of Jane Eyre of the current run at the Lowry Theatre. It was also the last opportunity to see Dreda Blow and Victoria Sibson dance with the company. I attended the show for two reasons. The first is that although I had never met either dancer I had seen them on stage many times. I wished to express my appreciation for all the pleasure that they had given me over the years. The second reason is that a dancer's farewell performance is often one of his or her best for he or she wants to leave on a high with the public wanting more. That in turn lifts the rest of the cast who also give of their best.
That is what happened yesterday. Northern Ballet gave one of the strongest performances that I have ever seen from them. They did so on one of the most spacious stages upon which they regularly perform. They fielded a cast that included many of my favourite dancers in the company. And, as I have said many times, Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre is by far the best work in their current repertoire.
As I have described the work already in Northern Ballet's Jane Eyre: the best new Ballet from the Company in 20 Years 2 June 2016 and Jane Eyre Second Time Round 18 April 2018 I shall avoid detail about the libretto, characters, designs and score. Edward Rochester was danced by Javier Torres who was my male dancer of the year last year (see 2017 in Retrospect 7 Jan 2018). Jane Eyre as an adult was, of course, danced by Dreda Blow who gave the strongest performance that I have ever seen her give in that role. Jane's younger self was danced by Antoinette Brooks-Daw and her tormenting cousins by Abigail Prudames, Abigail Cockrell and Matthew Koon. Mlindi Kulashe was a chilling Mr Brocklehurst (he plays baddies particularly well) and Ailen Ramos Betancourt an equally unpleasant Aunt Reed.
The novel, Jane Eyre, divides naturally into three parts yet the ballet splits into just two. I think it would benefit from an interval immediately after the attempted bigamy scene. Two much is funnelled into the second act. Valuable bits of the choreography such as the dance between Rochester and Blanche Ingram (Abigail Prudames) and Mr Rivers's proposal is overlooked even third time round. That is because there is just so much going on and the senses can only take in so much. Incidentally, I have to congratulate Sean Bates for his role for his portrayal of Rivers as a kindly, sensitive but nevertheless lacking soul who would have driven Jane nuts.
The most important characters from the governess phase of Jane's life are the playful Adèle (danced charmingly by Rachael Gillespie) and the deranged Bertha. Though her appearance is a short one it is probably the most important role in the ballet after Jane herself and it needs a fine dance actor. The company had none better than Victoria Sibson. I had seen her in that role in Richmond and she had impressed me then but her performance last night was even stronger. She threw herself into the last duet with Torres as the flames her flickered around her. Strands of her hair - a gorgeous red - her whirling dress - merging in the flames. What a glorious way for her public to remember her!
The crowd clapped and cheered of course and quite a few of us rose to our feet but it was not quite the send off that I had expected when I penned Flowers for Dreda yesterday. The Lowry's architecture does not lend itself to flower throws but I did expect massive bouquets for Blow and Sibson and possible one or two others. But then I reflected that this is a northern company and extravagance of that kind is not a northern thing to do. David Nixon entered the stage and gave a very good speech recalling some of her finest performances. It clearly affected Dreda for she gave him a big, tight hug. Instead of flowers which would have faded in days he gave her a framed photo of herself. From what I could glimpse from the centre of the stalls she was in red in full flight. "Something that will last" I thought. "She can hang it in her front parlour, perhaps." A sensible Northern gift from us no-nonsense northern folk.
Another thought that occurred to me as I stepped outside the theatre was that the company had come home. Manchester was where it was born and it is sad that it ever felt it had to leave us. It now has a magnificent studio and theatre complex at Quarry Hill, of course, that it shares with Phoenix to their obvious, mutual, artistic benefit. But the Grand with its pillars and narrow creaky stairs and possibly raked stage never quite does it justice. The Lowry, on the other hand, certainly does. It is possible for a company to have more than one home as several American companies do. I hope we shall see more of Northern here perhaps working with our CAT. The Lowry is not too far from Leeds. I spotted several of the great and good from Leeds sitting near me in the stalls. Indeed, I chatted to one of my favourite artists from that city in the interval. It is encouraging that Northern Ballet will return to the Lowry next year with Gatsby. I hope it puts down some very deep roots there.