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Shanghai Ballet: Jane Eyre, London, August 2013

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Shanghai Ballet – Jane Eyre – Coliseum – 14.8.2013

The choreographer Patrick de Bana is perhaps best remembered as a principal dancer with Bejart and then Duato’s Compania Nacional de Danza.  That their influences loom large in his impressionistic take on Bronte’s classic are therefore not surprising.  Especially those of Duato.


De Bana calls his JANE EYRE a ‘modern ballet’, only the ballet element is given short shrift wrapped as it is within the fetchingly suggestive surrounds and gossamer costumes of Jerome Kaplan who did such a glorious job with the National Ballet of China’s RED LANTERN seen some years ago at the ROH.  Here the modern dance elements took the brunt share in this depiction of betrayal wrapped in that national pastime of repressed emotion which we British seem all too readily to share with the Chinese.  Sadly de Bana’s choreographic vocabulary – at least as evidenced here – is not vast. 


The recorded score (blessedly heard to much cleaner effect than the muddy projections for the recent Russian Seasons programmes at the same address) is a mixed blessing.  It ranges from Britten to Debussy; from Samuel Barber to ye olde English airs followed by Villa-Lobos.  It trips along lightly in its overwhelming dark.  (Ah, yes ... that word again ... overwhelming.)  Only thing is that much of this music has already been famously (and better) choreographed to.  (For example Elgar’s Troyte variation was here used in the depiction of Richard Mason’s histrionic distress.  For many in this country that will of course always be the property of a certain Sir Fred Ashton in his glowing ELGAR VARIATIONS.  One sits there being reminded that some things are all too deservedly hard to shake.)


The most effective bit of choreography I thought was the adagio shared between the glowingly innocent Jane of Xiang Jieyan (albeit in much anxiety here) and the very talented and impassioned Zang Wenjun’s as St. John Rivers.  This one brief shining moment told a COMPLETE tale through its dance (with ballet intacta) and was vividly portrayed.  Indeed, this was the one moment where the audience’s applause seemed fully justified (although the entry into such was understandably hesitant based on what had preceded it.).   


Clearly the central role in this production was always intended for Bertha Mason.  In this production she is  well and truly unlocked from her cell and tellingly etched (in pointe shoes in the first act and then canvas flats for the second) by the hauntingly beautiful Fang Xiaofeng.  Sadly she has to struggle with choreography which is often repetitive and unnecessarily cloying.  While the charismatic Wu Husheng was telling as Edward Rochester most of the men in the company (which outnumbered its women amazingly) were anonymously left to ricochet in relative dark abandonment as ghosts, rocks or flames.  How one longed to see this fine company – and there were hints at what one imagines to be their considerable overall skill -  in another more formally classical work.   


This was after all a dramatic telling where the brush strokes (and hand claps) themselves loomed large within their own frames.  If one didn’t know the novel there would have been little sense in attempting to seek any.  This was an evening where one was left to appreciate moments; to discover parts rather than sharing a whole.   At no point did I feel for long that I could sit back and relax because I found myself rarely being allowed to be wholly engaged. 

One suggestion:  This 90 minute production could easily have been paired with, say, the Shanghai Ballet’s production of Balanchine’s LA VALSE which is in their current rep.  (In this way - and this way only - was it like La Sylphide.)  That would have given a greater overall variety and certainly provide a more substantive dramatic substance/variety to an evening of obvious (and in THAT manner alone admirable) aspiration. 


There can be no question but that the Shanghai Ballet's intent here was ripe with noble ambition. 


NOTICED IN THE AUDIENCE:  Kevin O’Hare, RB AD, Mikhail Messerer, AD Mikhailovsky Ballet, Dimitri Gudanov, Principal, Bolshoi Ballet

Edited by Meunier
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Meunier - I love your posts : baroque, wise, funny, stylish .... Just as well this is not a competitive forum!


Ah yes, Jane Eyre. Terribly slow to start, demonstrating control and lack of wobbles but not much else. Picked up speed and interest as it went along. 


We enjoyed the wasteland scenes - the mobile rocks were very atmospheric and genuinely transfixing in their contrapuntal moves; the dancing of Zang Wen Jung; the lighting; the set of the ruined house; the choreographic tic of "missing" contact within a pdd - hands slipping away ... ; the concentration of the dancers as an ensemble. 


A really mixed audience, too, that looked to have the potential for being quite interactive, but turned out to be silent and respectful, even when a bit of encouragement would have been welcome. I except from that praise the person in Stalls right who couldn't leave his/her mobile alone. Distracting even from upstairs.

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It was nice to have the whole ballet for the photocall, of course it was dark, I could not see the expressions in the faces of the dancers.  What if posible can be done to persuade our lighting creators to put in a basic level of light and then use their skill (not just a follow spot and blue lights) to create the atmosphere.  They are a good company and worked very hard. Here are some pictures from the dress rehearsal.


Xiang Jieyan - Jane Eyre and Wu Husheng - Edward Rochester 


 Fan Xiaofeng as Bertha Mason 
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When I try to access Clement Crisp's review of Jane Eyre (via Links) the heading flashes up briefly and then I get a page from the FT inviting me to subscribe. Is there any way of circumventing this so as to be able to read his criticism? I thought that it was only The Times which was problematic for balletcoforum.

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I think for the FT you can register and see several articles a month for free.  You can sometimes get to see articles by googling and if they appear on the search page you should be able to see them.  Someone told me about this ruse but I haven't had to check it out yet.


Just tried and it didn't work for me!


However, I have just signed in and read the review.  You can read 8 articles per month for free.

Edited by Janet McNulty
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You can also clear your cache after you've read the 8 free articles/month, and will usually be able to read again. Or register under different user names and emails if you have access to that.

Re:CC, I'm afraid I think he's a bit too much in love with his own use of language, and I think he's a blowhard but, yes, certainly he has a stylised and distinct writing style. Just not really what one looks for in a critic. One can tell so little about any performance from what he writes; all one can tell is what HE thought. Which is why I'm so grateful to all of you for your wonderful, detailed, and thoughtful reviews on this blog (and why i came to this blog in the first place). And CC seems SO mean and condescending in this particular review, gosh, imagine being the poor Shanghai Ballet dancers.  

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