Wuthering Heights, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London
Wednesday 10 June 2009
Considered as a possible dance adaptation, Wuthering Heights is a daunting prospect. Emily Brontë's novel is famous for its driven characters and brooding power, but it also has a rambling, jumpy narrative, stuffed with intricate relationships. Cathy Marston's new dance version strips down the novel, simplifying the plot. But the stylised choreography and designs smooth away contrasts between characters. Despite some atmospheric moments, Marston is a long way from Brontë's Romantic fury.
Jann Messerli's set is a spare evocation of the novel's moorland setting. Dark, angled shapes suggest hills and houses. Overhead, horizontal rods suggest lowering clouds. Dorothee Brodrück's costumes are similarly stylised, with little sense of period: Cathy wears a short, light dress and leggings.
The designs are non-specific but atmospheric. When the choreography takes the same approach, however, it comes across as vagueness. Marston shows Cathy surrounded by the men in her life, trying to keep a grip on her soulmate Heathcliff, on her stepbrother, on her husband. The characters circle each other, clasping hands or pulling away, yearning from opposite ends of the stage.
Though Gary Marshall broods away as Heathcliff, his steps are rarely wilder or fiercer than anybody else's. Only his violent dance with Isabella has any sense of anger to set him apart from the politeness of the Linton family.
It can be hard to tell her characters apart, particularly since Marston also adds "echoes" of Cathy and Heathcliff, extra dancers who act out their emotions. The echo effect can be striking – but it does increase the numbers of hard-to-identify characters on stage.
The score is by Dave Maric, who sets Mich Gerber's double bass, played live, against electronic samples of the same instrument. It creates a soundscape of sweeping lines, knocks and scribbles that suggest howling gales.
Performances are light in tone – not surprisingly, given their setting and choreography. Jenny Tattersall dances Cathy with focus, her attentive movement suggesting the character's fixations. Chien-Ming Chang and Hui-Chen Tsai, as Linton and his sister Isabella, do well as cooler characters drawn into the turmoil of Cathy and Heathcliff's relationships – even if the turmoil itself is underplayed in this production.
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