It’s safe to say that Jane Eyre isn’t a typical choice for a ballet, especially when compared to classics like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. However, the Joffrey Ballet adaptation of the English literary masterpiece makes Charlotte Brontë’s classic a force worth reckoning with in the ballet world. With bold female characters waltzing out in confident synchronization and impressive Victorian set design, the production is worth seeing even if you haven’t read the novel.
Choreographed by Cathy Marston, this ballet adaptation’s unique blend of symbolism, scene-stealers, and storytelling keeps the viewer mesmerized. And for an avid fan of the book, the production offered cathartic release. The ballet does a beyond-fantastic job of portraying Jane’s accumulated struggles onstage, from growing up in abusive conditions to dealing with her moral qualms over loving Rochester. Tension and emotion are effectively portrayed with five crazed demons who plague Jane throughout the ballet, refusing to leave her in peace. However, the conflict is rendered with majesty and the fighting scenes are carried out with grace.
As Jane performs her triumphant solo across the stage at the finale, the tension with her inner demons dissipates. This symbolic victory over the numerous hurdles of her childhood and her rocky relationship with her aunt and the other orphaned girls is communicated beautifully and effectively with her solo walk, while simultaneously speaking to Jane’s newfound independence.
Moreover, costuming is used to effectively convey Jane’s ostracization at the Lowood school. Later in the ballet when she is interacting with Rochester and some socialites, her plain dress doesn’t allow her to shine in the crowd. Yet, despite her lack of fine feathers, she holds her own, and her beautiful dance with Rochester attests to the charisma she nonetheless exudes in a simple garment. Even with Jane’s many charms, the character of Bertha, Rochester’s first wife, really stole the show with her fiery red costume and wild hair. Dancing in front of a backdrop of flames, Bertha’s silhouette dripped with mystery even before she had been entirely unveiled.
Jane Eyre is a novel that one shouldn’t just reread, but also accompany with its ballet adaptation. Riddled with symbolism, detail, and powerful female characters, the Joffrey Ballet has spun out a performance worth taking a Saturday off for. Lose yourself to the intricacies onstage, and perhaps you will catch a glimpse of what your high school AP Lit teachers meant when they heralded Jane Eyre as one of the greatest storytelling triumphs.