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Dance Review: Hurlevent
Choreography by Kader Belarbi


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 April 2002 - After the run of somewhat negative new works programmed at the Paris Opéra Ballet over the past couple of years, here at last, despite teething troubles, was a creation worthy of the name. For his first full-length ballet, Hurlevent, based upon Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, danseur étoile Kader Belarbi commissioned an original score from Philippe Hersant, brought in Peter Pabst, the brilliant staging and lighting expert for the decor, and invited Elsa Pavanel to create costumes inspired by the Victorian era.

As the most wildly romantic novel in British nineteenth century literature, set in the bleakness of the Yorkshire Moors, seemed a surprising subject for this dancer of Algerian origin to choose, I met him to find out why. Had he, as an adolescent fallen in love with Catherine Earnshaw to the extent of immortalising her for the French dancers, most of whom had never heard of her before?

No he hadn't, he told me over coffee in the cafeteria of the Palais Garnier. He hadn't even read the book or set foot in Yorkshire when the idea to create a ballet arose, a work moreover intended for Japan.

Marie-Agnes Gillot et Nicolas Le Riche
Marie-Agnes Gillot and Nicolas Le Riche in Hurlevent
Photo: Icare

"The adventure began nearly three years ago", he said, "when Agathe Berman, the film producer gave me a series of sixteen illustrations in Indian ink from a 1933 edition of Wuthering Heights. They were so beautiful and so expressive that I not only read the novel, but made a trip to the North of England. In four days, I must have seen more than most people who spent four years there; and it's an extraordinary part of the world"

"Everything in the book still exists, as though time had stood still. I saw the withered, stunted, tree that is part of the actual decor of my ballet, and although it was only early autumn, the wind was howling round my ears. The atmosphere was amazing. and the idea of an "histoire dansée" began to take hold of me. I saw I could establish a parallel between Emily Bronte's book and the Romantic ballets, as both seemed to me pure escapist fantasy. Both take place in a supernatural world, for Catherine, after she dies at the end of the first act, returns as a spirit and continues to enslave Heathcliff, making it impossible for him to live in the real world".

Laetitia Pujol et Karl Paquette
Laetitia Pujol and Karl Paquette in Hurlevent
Photo: Icare

Belarbi, a young man of great imagination, began working by himself in a studio searching for his own means of expression, listening to many kinds of music. It wasn't until mid-January that he started working with the dancers, first to get the emotion he wanted, and then to fit his choreography to the music of Hersant, who gave him a melody when he needed one, and yet was capable of breaking the rhythm, with strident, grating sounds for the approach of evil.

"I wanted to avoid the cliché images of William Wyler's famous 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, to the extent that many characters, Joseph, for example, become barely recognisable. The whole work is built around Catherine, Heathcliff and Edgar, linked by the presence of Nelly, "he added. "There are no tutus, and no pointe shoes in the first act because it takes place in the world of reality, whereas Catherine is on pointe when she descends from the world beyond to find Heathcliff.

"The ballet is freely adapted from the book", Belarbi explained, "as I knew I wasn't ready to tell a story. It's why the work is called Hurlevent, and not Les Hauts de Hurlevent, as it is really a journey through time. But so far, the public has had a very positive reaction to my choreography, and at least there's one good thing", he added with a smile, " I've made people read the book".

Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris
Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris in Hurlevent
Photo: Icare

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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