David Nixon's new Wuthering Heights for Northern Ballet Theatre will probably be a hit – although at only two hours long it still had me glancing twitchingly at my watch. The plentiful pas de deux that form the ballet's backbone will probably wow audiences – although their intended intensity to me felt closer to bathos, too clichéd and repetitive to strike the heart with fresh force. After the deft assurance of Nixon's Madame Butterfly and I Got Rhythm (previously staged elsewhere), maybe we had been expecting too much and this, his first original work for NBT, comes as something of a disappointment.
The ballet concentrates on the early part of Emily Brontë's novel, the Cathy-Heathcliff generation, which is a relief, given the confusing entanglement of Brontë's later genealogy. This means that some of the original details, in Patricia Doyle's dramaturgy, are modified, with Cathy dying not in childbirth but of a fever, after a night on the moors.
It is a clever wheeze to give the younger versions of Cathy and Heathcliff entrances throughout the ballet, to contrast with their adult selves. But otherwise the surprise is how conventionally straightforward the ballet's approach is – admirably terse, yes, and clear, but boringly, pedestrianly reiterating the familiar narrative, when we might have expected a more imaginative, evocative take. We have been here so many times before, in films, and even ballets, including a previously disastrous Brontë blockbuster by the same company. Ali Allen's designs are similarly terse: succinct sections of wall or curtain that operate smooth scene changes and leave plenty of space. The result, though, lacks atmosphere, while the risible snowstorms on the moors appear like sprays of confetti, probably hurled in handfuls from a sack.
Ah t'moors, t'moors! Scene of so many encounters between Cathy and Heathcliff, Heathcliff and Cathy... Charlotte Talbot is as wildly beautiful as you could hope for. Jonathan Ollivier is correctly swarthy and brooding and very sexy, especially when dressed in black leather. He also wields a riding crop which he cynically uses to stroke and taunt in his seduction of poor, vulnerable Isabella (Desiré Samaai).
The riding crop is a blunder; more titter-inducing prop than vivid symbol of Heathcliff's ruthlessness. Another mistake is the underwhelming invention of the choreo- graphy, which blights not only the pas de deux, but causes Hironao Takahashi's Edgar to come across as more wimpish than necessary. And then there is Claude-Michel Schönberg's score, by turns self-importantly pumping and swelling or drifting into becalmed lyricism. It is direly obtrusive; it is unavoidable, it won't go away.
Touring to March 2003
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies