By Patricia Boccadoro
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.
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?
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.
Gillot and Nicolas Le Riche in Hurlevent
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"
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".
Pujol and Karl Paquette in Hurlevent
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".
de l'Opera National de Paris in Hurlevent
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