Cathy Marston’s technique is different than most choreography. In her adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 19th century novel “Jane Eyre,” the choreographer says she creates movement based on quotes taken directly from the novel.
“I really draw inspiration from words and translate them into movement so that every movement you will see on stage has a very specific meaning and intention,” Marston said. “When I’m creating with dancers, the movement comes from inside and uses classical technique. You see that. But all of the movement is about the intention rather than about the technique. The technique is only there to underpin the emotion or the narrative the dancers are trying to express.”
Marston’s adaptation of “Jane Eyre” started at the Northern Ballet in England before heading to the American Ballet Theatre in New York. This week, it opens at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet.
The story of “Jane Eyre” explores an orphan’s journey of self-discovery through several hardships. Constantly struggling between the desires of her heart and her head, lead dancer Amanda Assucena says conveying these emotions through movement has taken a lot of practice.
“Playing Jane has been about finding the person that she is,” Assucena said. “She’s such a complex character. Her mind expands to so many different thoughts. There’s so much going on in her head, but on the outside, she’s quite a composed person. So I’ve had to play with that a lot and I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know Jane.”
With the Chicago Philharmonic playing a combination of Fanny Mendelsohn and Schubert, Marston says its timely but contemporary feel adds to the emotions she works to capture throughout the story.
It is Marston’s ability to tell this story through movement based on literature that encouraged artistic director Ashley Wheater to invite her to work with the company.
“She’s using the language of ballet, but it’s also hybridized,” Wheater said. “So I think you could say it’s really like theater. And how she has told the story is so beautifully crafted. I was really compelled by the work.”
While acting may be something the company is used to, it also comes with challenges that Marston says are for the better.
“It’s challenging for the dancers but in a good way,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to live on stage so vividly? They’ve really connected with that process. It’s an emotional ride for them. They will be changed at the end of the evening. I hope that will pass over the stage to the audience.”
"Jane Eyre" opens at the Joffrey Ballet on Wednesday, Oct. 16 and runs through Oct. 27.
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Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.