In an extraordinary display of cross-cultural fertilisation, Shanghai Ballet Company brings its contemporary dance version of one of Britain’s best-loved novels for their debut visit to the UK. Charlotte Bronte is big in China, I gather, so the source material is no more surprising than India’s fascination with Emily Bronte which resulted in the Bollywood version of Wuthering Heights some years ago. Clearly, the Bronte sisters maintain a universal appeal.
Wu Husheng and Ji PingPing in Jane Eyre Photo: Zhao Lu
Distilled down to its essence by choreographer Patrick de Bana, this version is cleanly danced and full of expressive gesture, even if the storytelling is a little muddy. Each scene works well in isolation with the key central relationships - basically a love triangle between Rochester (Wu Husheng), Jane (Xiang Jieyan) and Rochester’s mad wife Bertha (Fan Xiaofeng) - clearly defined. The representational set is elegantly functional, with screens sliding up and down to represent the moors and Thornfield Hall; the costumes are similarly purposeful without an over-adherence to period.
De Bana makes terrific use of gestural contrast - spiky, robotic phrasing gives way to slow, deliberate floating movement, often conducted en pointe. Given the amount of time the women spend on their toes they must have tendons of steel because there is never a wobble to be seen. While the ensemble race around the stage in various guises as ghosts or party girls or the flames that reduce Rochester’s home to smoking ruins the central characters exhibit a degree of control that is hugely impressive; their stillness is as eloquent as their motion.
Among the many spellbinding sequences is a pas de trois which exposes Rochester’s heartbreaking dilemma; his vestigial love for Bertha - and hers for him - is beautifully realised. A spectral solo infuses the atmosphere with an ethereal dread. The selection of music is eccentric, ranging from mediaeval to modern classical, Greensleeves to Samuel Barber and while each supports individual scenes it never quite comes together as a musical entirety. A fascinating evening.