American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
June 6, 2019
Sometimes it’s really nice to be wrong.
I didn’t expect much from Jane Eyre, based on it being trumpeted as the work of a female choreography rather than on its merits. And I avoided reading any reviews from its prior performances with other companies, ignored the hype, and read no post-opening night reviews. I wanted to see it tonight, with that opening night cast, without preconceptions.
Jane Eyre shattered those negative expectations. It’s one of the finest new evening length story ballet within my memory. It’s a triumph for choreographer Cathy Marston, for Jenny Tattersall and Daniel De Andrade who staged it, for Devon Teuscher and the entire ABT cast, and for Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie for bringing it here. With minimal props and a shifting panorama of runners and a bit of smoke providing atmosphere, Marston has created a ballet that lives, that’s dramatic, that’s exciting, and that never allows the audience’s attention to lapse. From my vantage point the audience was transfixed – you could hear a pin drop.
Most of all, it’s choreographed from a different point of view.
I wouldn’t call this production “feminist,” but it certainly provides a strong female lead character, and gives the best of its roles to women. Given the story, that’s as it should be. But it’s far more than just a strong woman and opportunities for female dancers. Jane Eyre has an unmistakable emotional sensibility that’s unmatched.
If there’s a weakness to the ballet, it’s the male dancing and characterization, but even here, the partnering Marston has choreographed is as superbly accomplished as the table-turning (a male “candle dance,” — which is not the only allusion to La Bayadere). The pas de deux for Edward Rochester and Jane (three of them, by my count) are stunning in their complexity and simplicity (both, together, are not easy to pull off). And the staging is extraordinary. For example (one of many), one minute a party at the Rochester residence takes place spread across center and upstage, while Teuscher watches from raised upstage perimeter area; the next minute their locations are effectively reversed, with Teuscher downstage right, continuing to watch, with no loss of continuity and to profound dramatic effect. Multiple points of view are not unusual, but here it was as if a photographic lens almost unnoticeably changed focus. And the piece flows and changes time seamlessly, with the past interwoven with the present in Jane’s eyes and in the eyes of the audience.
Devon Teuscher’s Jane was the heart of the ballet, and to me it was her finest performance to date. I should have been prepared for the nuances of character she showed here by her brilliant performance several years ago in Antony Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas, but this took her far beyond even that. She changes emotional characterization in a heartbeat, as quickly as her choreographic execution moves from one combination to the next.. Teuscher pulls it off magnificently, and her performance is one of the highlights of this or any other year.
But Teuscher wasn’t alone. Every member of the cast excelled: Cate Hurlin’s towering portrayal of “Young Jane” (as memorable as Teuscher’s Jane), Calvin Royal III’s vicious Headmaster, Cassandra Trenary’s madwoman Bertha Mason, Zimmi Coker’s hyperactive Adele Varens, Stella Abrera’s snooty and pseudo-sophisticated Blanche Ingram, and in one of her most unexpectedly brilliant portrayals, Sarah Lane as housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, who delivered a role against type, necessarily understated, and with so many emotional facets I lost count, each clearly expressed even if only in a matter of seconds. Again, the male roles aren’t as strong, but James Whiteside did excellent work as Edward Rochester – particularly with his partnering and his directional legs and feet (I’ll explain later), and Aran Bell’s St. John Rivers, who’s supposed to be somewhat of an emotional cold fish, became quite a sympathetic character.
I’ll provide more details as soon as I have an opportunity after seeing another cast, but Jane Eyre is a breath of fresh choreographic air that was long in coming, but was well worth waiting for — not just because it was choreographed by a woman, but because it was brilliantly conceived and choreographed. Period. If you can, beg, borrow or steal a ticket for one of the remaining performances this season. It’s worth it.