Magazine article The Spectator

Novel Approach

Magazine article The Spectator

Novel Approach

Article excerpt


Wuthering Heights

Northern Ballet Theatre, Sadler's Wells

At first, the idea of a choreographic translation of Wuthering Heights might sound a bit odd. But if you love the old movie with Merle Oberon and Sir Laurence Olivier, you will love David Nixon's creation for Northern Ballet Theatre. Not unlike the black-and-white classic, this ballet is surprisingly engaging. Nixon, who is also artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre, keeps the viewer's attention with a well-concocted mix of passionate narrative moments, intense psychological ones, humorous scenes and entertaining theatrical solutions. In this he is the ideal keeper of Northern Ballet Theatre's dance-drama tradition, into which he has also managed to weave new ideas and approaches.

As an eminent dance personality noted during the interval, Nixon's sense of dramatic construction would have made the late Christopher Gable, creator of the dance-drama genre and former artistic director of the same company, very happy.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, whose narrative creations are inaccessible and indigestible, Nixon opts for a rapid sequence of dramatic scenes, in which the most significant events of Emily Bronte's story are told with clarity and simplicity. Yet, Nixon's choreography goes far beyond creating theatrically catchy solutions and nice-looking steps.

His dance-making skills are particularly evident in the numerous well-constructed duets that punctuate this work. Despite the use of recognisable choreographic leitmotivs, each duet is never repetitive or predictable. And it is through a well-devised system of differences and similarities that Nixon turns the duets into key narrative moments, arranging them in a fluid crescendo of drama and passion. And, even though the ingenious construction of each pas de deux entails a great deal of technically demanding action, none of these duets comes across as a display of bravura and spectacle. I only wish the rest of the danced action possessed similar qualities, which, alas, was not always the case.

Once the dance moves from portraying Cathy's and Heathcliffs inner turmoil back to pure story-telling, the constraints of the ballet medium become evident. …

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