Northern Ballet kicked off Brontë Season at West Yorkshire Playhouse with their reinterpretation of Wuthering Heights, and our reviewer was there to see it.
Wuthering Heights is the kind of novel that you can imagine working very well as a ballet, and indeed it does. David Nixon’s original work, which is the first he choreographed for the company when he took over as Artistic Director in 2001, tells the story beautifully.
It begins with Heathcliff as a tortured old man, surrounded by the ghosts of his past. While he is angry and brooding, his younger self is spritely, playful and free from the burdens of his future – much like his companion. Ayami Miyata and Kevin Poeung play the young lovers beautifully, and as Act 1 progressed, I found myself wanting more.
It’s not that the older duo, danced by Javier Torres and Dreda Blow were any less captivating, indeed, they gave the characters the same spirited personalities, but as we move from the Moors to the Thrushcross Grange, they begin to change.
Cathy is wooed by Edgar’s riches, much more than his personality, and his elegant restrained style begins to rub off on her, although there are still glimpses of her old self. Meanwhile, Heathcliff, separated from her, begins his descent, growing angry and tormented in her absence. What first appeared to be innocent love, quickly transforms into obsession. And so, when Cathy returns, she must make a decision, love or riches – needless to say, she chooses the latter.
In the context of all this, the innocent freedom of the young couple stands out, and for me, they were the highlight of the first act, but as we moved into the second, our leads came into their own. It’s the first time I’ve seen Dreda Blow taking the lead, and she didn’t disappoint – she’s an extremely expressive dancer, and that was particularly important to this ballet. She captured the joy of her wedding perfectly, but it’s her scenes with Heathcliff where it really pays off, because while their dancing is often reminiscent of their younger days, her face tells a different story.
Equally, Javier Torres excels as Heathcliff. He’s perfectly suited to the rough, dramatic style of the character, and nowhere is that more true than when he woos Isabella. It’s a violent yet magnetic scene, as he kicks, throws and roughly pushes her away, but just like Cathy, the prim and proper Isabella, danced by Rachael Gillespie, is drawn back to him again and again. This
Their relationship, however, is just a ruse, a way to distract Cathy from her humdrum life, in which even the luxuries she once adored have lost their charm – and it works. Tormented by the vision of them kissing, she slips back into her memories, taking the hand of her past self and escaping to the Moors, where she inevitably finds Heathcliff, and the two are finally reunited. It’s a captivating scene, but the tryst is their undoing.
Caught by Isabella, Cathy returns home and falls ill. Wracked by fever, she strips her bed back to nothing, removing the luxuries that first tempted her away from Heathcliff. At the end, it’s not Edgar, but Heathcliff, who’s by her side, and his grief is overwhelming.
But while Cathy may have died, in Nixon’s Wuthering Heights, that is not the end, because when Heathcliff too passes away, our young couple return, as spritely as ever – perhaps their love is everlasting after all.
Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights offers a new take on a classic, and one that is beautifully performed to Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score, so if you’re on the fence about whether to buy tickets, I say go for it.
Northern Ballet’s Wuthering Heights is at West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 10th September 2016.