INTERVIEW: Choreographer Cathy Marston Talks JANE EYRE

Northern Ballet JANE EYRE

Joseph Taylor as Mr Rochester and Mariana Rodrigues as Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Northern Ballet brings one of literature’s most iconic heroines to life on stage with a new revival of JANE EYRE.

Based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë, JANE EYRE tells the story of a plain but intelligent child who grows up knowing little kindness. Sent away to a charitable school, Jane later accepts a position as a Governess at Thornfield, a gentleman’s manor whose master is the dark and impassioned Mr Rochester. In spite of their social differences, an unlikely bond grows between the pair but as their romance develops, it becomes clear that Mr Rochester has a hidden past that threatens to ruin them both.

Originally premièred by Northern Ballet in May 2016, this dramatic tale of romance, jealousy and dark secrets comes to Salford’s The Lowry for the first time next month. Ahead of its week long run from 6 – 9 June, acclaimed British dance maker Cathy Marston whose recent credits include a new production of Dangerous Liaisons for Danish Royal Ballet in May 2017, talks about her love for the book and how she brings this classic story to life.

Why Jane Eyre?

As the daughter of two English teachers, Jane Eyre was one of the classics of English Literature that I was introduced to as a child. There are so many different works that I could make inspired by this novel – rich as it is with characters, motifs and themes. Necessarily restricting my focus to create this 90 minute ballet however, I decided to hone in on Jane’s story, which combines an utterly compelling romantic narrative with the journey of a young, sparky girl discovering emotional intelligence as she attempts to balance moral integrity with love, passion and compassion.

What is it about Jane that attracted you to her character?

I’m often drawn to strong female leads; characters like Cathy (Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights) Mrs Alving (Ibsen’s Ghosts) or Lolita (of Nabokov’s novel) are just some of those who have inspired me. Jane is considered an early feminist character. She feels like she is fighting the outside world but she is also fighting herself. As I discovered her anew through our rehearsals I was struck by how surprising she is. Her reactions are seldom obvious, and we always asked, ‘What would Jane do here?’

What about the male characters?

The enigma that is Mr Rochester is also a wonderful character to draw through dance; he’s not your typical prince charming and is yet the archetype of a romantic hero. The counterbalance between him and St. John is a very physical and human way to personify the tension Jane feels between her desires and principles.

One challenge we were faced with when creating this ballet was how to cast Mr Rochester, as in the book and in most film adaptations he is well over 40, but Northern Ballet’s male dancers are younger than that. It is an interesting challenge though as it makes you look at who Rochester is inside rather than how he looks on the outside.

Another challenge was to incorporate more of the men into the ballet as the book typically only gives us four named key male roles. I didn’t want the production to be nearly all women, so I have introduced ‘D-Men’. They inhabit Jane’s inner world and represent her inner demons as well as ‘death’, which is often on her heel.

Throughout her life she feels that men get in her way; they block her path, they divert her, they die on her, they let her down and they lie to her. From her father dying, to her cousin bullying her, to Brocklehurst abusing her, to Rochester lying dramatically to her and St. John trying to mould her into his idea of a wife – the actions of the men in her life are one of the main reasons she is so distrustful and fights so hard to climb out of the world she has been born into.

Can you tell us about your creative team?

I was thrilled to work again with Philip Feeney, also a long term Northern Ballet collaborator, to create the score for Jane Eyre using a combination of his own original compositions and music by other established composers. One of those whose music underpins the piece is Fanny Mendelssohn. We wanted to include 19th century music in the piece and it felt appropriate to choose a woman who, like the Brontës, was also a game changer of that period in her own way. Orchestrated by Philip, her music sounds remarkably contemporary, especially sitting next to the music of her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, and Schubert.

I was also delighted that Patrick Kinmonth created the sets and costumes for this production. His background, which combines theatre, art and fashion has influenced our approach, creating a stylised space that can transform and give you a sense of the scenes free from domestic clutter and props. The painted cloths suggest at once the dark interior settings of the story and the moorland that is both a realistic and emotional background to the plot.

How does it feel to be working with Northern Ballet again?

I’m really excited to be both returning to the Company and this ballet. Inevitably with new creations, the choreography is very ‘fresh’ on the première performance, and the dancers find the movement embeds itself in their bodies throughout the run of shows. This time we can approach it as an existing work and dig a little deeper together as we rehearse and remember the piece. It’s a task that I know will inspire us all and I look forward to another layer of our work together.

JANE EYRE runs at The Lowry, Salford from 6 – 9 June 2018