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A wuthering ballet at La Opera

1) I had never been to a full ballet; 2) Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is my favorite book (well, maybe with the last section lopped off); 3) Heathcliff desperately calls out, “Cathy! Cathy, my heart’s darling!”; 4) The Opera is a half-hour walk from my apartment; and, 5) my ticket was only 10 euros.

How could I not respond to the poster for the ballet Hurlevent (“roaring wind”), advertised as Wuthering Heights?. The ballet production was choreographed by Kader Belarbi, a dancer of Algerian origin.

I’d toured the Opera house just four days before and saw the posters for Wuthering Heights. After looking at the sumptuous staircases, statues, and Marc Chagall’s painted ceiling, I bought my Hurlevent ticket.

Belarbi explains his obsession with Wuthering Heights, a book with characters unknown to most French dancers. “The adventure began nearly three years ago”, he said, “when Agathe Berman gave me a series of 16 illustrations in India 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 . . . 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. 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.” 

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Because I was seated in the fourth chair in a narrow box, I had to stand for the entire performance. I enjoyed the gorgeous dancers and the set’s windblown tree and shimmering scrims simulating a desolate moor. The final scene as Catherine and Heathcliff join for eternity was so sublime there was not a rustle, a cough, nor a shifting of legs in the entire theater. The final moments had the two dancers lying motionless on the stage with hands joined; the audience sat breathless with the romanticism of the story.“The ballet is freely adapted from the book”, Belarbi explained, “[that’s] why the work is called Hurlevent, and not Les Hauts (“the heights”) de Hurlevent, as it is really a journey through time.” It certainly reached les hauts for me.

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