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The return of Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre

PUBLISHED: 21:01 05 March 2018 | UPDATED: 21:01 05 March 2018

Hannah Bateman as Jane and Javier Torres as Mr Rochester in rehearsal for Jane Eyre

Hannah Bateman as Jane and Javier Torres as Mr Rochester in rehearsal for Jane Eyre

©Justin_Slee 2015

Northern Ballet’s production of Jane Eyre deserves a new outing. Lauren Godfrey explains why.

Few things are as synonymous with Yorkshire as the Brontë family and the enduring tales spun by its most famous members Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Their lives in Haworth and the surrounding region inspired the imagery of their novels and contributed to the romantic vision of Yorkshire’s vast, beautiful and untameable landscape still held almost two centuries later. Who better then, than Yorkshire’s own Northern Ballet to tackle the task of bringing one of the most famous Brontë stories to the dance stage?

Premièred in 2016 during the bicentennial year of author Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre was originally created for its dedicated tour to smaller theatres to encourage development of audiences for dance. As such, this most Yorkshire of ballets has only ever been performed four times in the county, at Doncaster’s splendid Cast Theatre. However, such was the overwhelmingly positive response to this new ballet that is was nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award in 2017, and now, less than two years later, Jane Eyre will have a new outing. Up-scaled and upgraded to Northern Ballet’s main tour, Jane Eyre will be performed in Leeds and Sheffield this spring, and has been selected for the Company’s annual visit to London’s prestigious Sadler’s Wells. And so Charlotte Brontë’s legacy continues. No stranger to Brontë ballets, Northern Ballet already has a successful adaptation of Wuthering Heights in its repertoire. But while seasoned choreographer and artistic director David Nixon OBE took on the creation of Wuthering Heights himself, he tasked exciting British choreographer Cathy Marston to tell the story of the indomitable Jane.

In Jane Eyre, Jane endures a loveless childhood of cruelty and repression before later accepting a position as a governess at Thornfield where the master is the impassioned and mysterious Mr Rochester.

In spite of their social differences, a romance develops between the pair but a series of strange events suggest that all is not as it seems.

As Jane and Rochester’s wedding day arrives, the ceremony is suddenly interrupted by a wild woman who claims to be Rochester’s legal wife. As the mad woman’s claims are proved true, a heartbroken Jane flees into the harsh embrace of the moors. Desolate, Jane finally realises that in spite of everything that has gone on between them, she loves Mr Rochester and will never be happy without him. She boldly returns to Thornfield but finds a terrible fire has taken hold with devastating consequences.

Choreographer Cathy Marston has often been drawn to strong female characters and Jane is no exception. ‘Characters like Cathy (Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), Mrs Alving (Ibsen’s Ghosts) and Lolita (of Nabokov’s novel) are just some of those who have inspired me,’ says Marston. ‘Jane is considered an early feminist character. She feels like she is fighting the outside world but she’s also fighting herself as she attempts to balance moral integrity with love, passion and compassion.

‘Jane’s story combines an utterly compelling romantic narrative with the journey of a young, spirited girl establishing her emotional intelligence. As we discovered her anew through our rehearsals for this ballet, I was struck by how surprising she is. Her reactions were seldom obvious, and we always asked: “What would Jane do here?”’

The score for Jane Eyre, which is played live at every performance by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, is arranged from original compositions and music by other established composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and Schubert. Significantly though, the music which underpins the production is that of the lesser-known Fanny Mendelssohn. ‘We wanted to include 19th century music in the piece and it felt appropriate to choose a woman who, like the Brontës, was also a game changer of that period in her own way,’ explains Marston.

And as a character, Jane too was nothing if not a game changer of the time. Her determination to climb out of the world she was born into; her battle to balance achieving her desires with the meek obedience expected of a woman and her ultimate courage in finding her own path. Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre is a celebration of the bumpy but triumphant journey of one of literature’s greatest heroines.

Northern Ballet presents Jane Eyre at Leeds Grand Theatre from March 7th-14th and then at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from April 10th-14th. For booking details see northernballet.com/whatson.

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