Friday, 9 September 2016

Northern Ballet's "Wuthering Heights" at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

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Northern Ballet, Wuthering Heights, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 6 Sep 2016

Guest Contributor  Janet McNulty

The West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP) has always been a special performance space for Northern Ballet since their first season there in the early noughties. Most of the productions performed there have been created there and only A Midsummer Night's Dream has toured extensively to the Company's more usual theatres.

Wuthering Heights is a first for the Company as it is a main stage production transferring to the much more intimate space of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Since the news was first announced I, and many other fans, have been waiting eagerly to see how this ballet favourite would transfer to WYP.

Well the wait was finally over last night when Northern Ballet opened a short season of Wuthering Heights at the WYP. There was a lovely sense of anticipation as the house lights went down...

I was not disappointed. Wuthering Heights looked every bit as wonderful as I expected it to in this terrific theatre. The orchestra was hidden away behind the set but their playing of the score, under the baton of John Pryce-Jones was splendid. The positioning of the orchestra also meant that the audience was very close to the action and we were able to take in every tiny gesture of the dancers.

Opening night was led by Dreda Blow as Cathy and Javier Torres as Heathcliff. Dreda was a wild Cathy, adoring Heathcliff from the start but also being swayed by the riches of Thrushcross Grange. She was totally hemmed in to her marriage to Edgar (exquisitely danced and acted by Nicola Gervasi). Javier was everything we would expect from Heathcliff - darkly brooding and very passionate in his feelings towards Cathy. One of my favourite moments of this work is the red duet when we have seen a subdued dance between Cathy and Edgar who cannot express their feelings to each other and as they part Heathcliff bursts into the garden. Their duet is exciting and passionate and last night I forgot to breathe!

We were very privileged to see Rachael Gillespie make her debut as Isabella last night - she was just exquisite. She was a total innocent abroad and it was easy to see how she fell for Heathcliff's rough charm.

The ballet starts with Mr Earnshaw bringing the foundling Heathcliff into his house and shows young Cathy's growing attraction to him as Hindley becomes neglected and embittered. Kevin Poeung and Ayami Miyata portrayed the young loves incredibly expressively. Kevin's facial expressions were subtle and a joy to behold. Giuliano Contadini gave a very nuanced performance as Hindley from enthusiastic young boy to embittered sadist and sad drunk. Victoria Sibson and Hiro Takahashi brought all their experience to the roles of devoted Ellen and the devout Joseph. I particularly noticed Victoria's devastation during Cathy's death scene.

One of the joys of watching Northern Ballet is to glance around the stage and see how involved all the dancers are, no matter how small their roles and last night was no exception.

It really was a terrific start to Northern Ballet's Autumn season!

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