Jane Eyre, Shanghai Ballet, London Coliseum | Dance reviews, news & interviews
Jane Eyre, Shanghai Ballet, London Coliseum
A brave Chinese ballet version of Brontë's romance misses the point
For their first visit to the UK, Shanghai Ballet have brought a narrative ballet based on a Chinese theatrical version of Jane Eyre. It focuses on Bertha Mason, Mr Rochester’s mad wife in the attic, whose fate has often troubled readers, though the Shanghai narrative does not ask about the economic and social conditions of exploitation, the colonialism and sexism that have trapped her.
Instead it presents Bertha, Jane and Rochester as three troubled souls in a kind of eternal love triangle. But Charlotte Brontë's classic is not a novel about a timeless dilemma, it is about a specific character’s psychological development; and by transmuting these individuals into types, the Shanghai Ballet treatment lost me.
A sense of dislocation is created by costumes and sets that gesture at various epochs while never committing to any one: Mrs Fairfax is in Victorian stripes and a bustle, but Jane’s elegant pinafore is Edwardian, while Rochester’s shiny black suit seems to have been borrowed from Mick Jagger circa 1977. Adding to the tragic, rather than novelistic, mood are the male dancers who cover the transitions between scenes, representing ghosts, rocks, or flames. Lit low so we cannot see their faces, and moving mostly in unison or simple alternation, they have more of the Greek chorus about them than a ballet corps.
The physical storytelling features a little too much running and hair-tossing
Their frenetic blend of martial art style and ballet, however, brought a welcome lift in tempo and energy, because choreographer Patrick de Bana has mostly gone for a token contemporary/ballet blend. This works best when it moves towards expressionism, or merges with Chinese traditional dance; at other moments the physical storytelling features a little too much running and hair-tossing.
Fan Xiaofeng as Bertha has to do a lot of both, but fortunately for us she is a magnetic dancer, committed to every movement, flickering constantly between fluidity and rigidity to convey Bertha’s distress, and commanding attention whenever she is on stage. To her are given some of the most visually striking tableaux: kneeling in a white dress in a shower of red rose petals; standing trying to claw her way out of a glass box; collapsed in a pool of orange light like a murder victim under a streetlamp.
Her Bertha doesn’t show much psychological development, but she might be excused that, playing a madwoman; in Wu Husheng’s Rochester, though, emotional implausibility is a serious problem. The man from whose orbit two women cannot escape should have near-planetary gravity: instead he is boyishly handsome and seemingly impermeable, affected as little by near-death in a fire as by Jane’s healing return. His dancing is competent, but the one-register acting makes it hard even to dislike him for the villain he is supposed to be.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Two gems and two duds in celebratory mixed bill with live music
Fine dancers in well-designed, interesting war piece
The Scandinavian stylists give a tantalising glimpse of their Royal jewels
Great Cojocaru and Vasiliev provide the cherry on top of a wonderful company production
Live orchestra makes up for touring production's dance weaknesses
A dozen unforgettable events from a rich year
Sumptuous redesign transforms old favourite into a safe new classic
Wayne Eagling's production returns for another bout of rodent control
A hearty dose of cheer, with just a little weirdness, from master storyteller Matthew Bourne
Classy dance, design and music, marinated just a little long in the treacle well
Dance approaches religious experience in the hands of two truly magnificent artists
Carlos Acosta's sunny romp of a production returns, with improvements