"And it seemed she was like the sea, nothing but dark waves rising and heaving, heaving with a great swell, so that slowly her whole darkness was in motion, and she was ocean rolling its dark, dumb mass.”

Raphael Bouchard and Eline Malegue in <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover</i> © Sasha Onyschenko
Raphael Bouchard and Eline Malegue in Lady Chatterley's Lover
© Sasha Onyschenko

This season, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens bring a brand new narrative piece to the stage; a neoclassical adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Probably the most famous banned book of all time, Lady Chatterley’s Lover pores over the interconnected themes of sex, love, class, the body and nature vs. industry with an emotional force that still resonates.

In this production, choreographed by British choreographer Cathy Marston for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the audience is treated to a fresh take on this story. Having previously choreographed literary classics including Wuthering Heights, Marston seems uniquely equipped to cut to the truth of this story, and does so with aplomb. Apparently she began each rehearsal by going back to the text, and said that during the creative process the book became her constant companion, “like a lover.” Her respect for the novel, of the words of D.H Lawrence, is amply evident in the resulting stage adaptation.

Guest conductor Dina Gilbert led the orchestra ably through Philip Feeney’s sweeping composition, the overture of which seemed to suggest the gently domesticated sounds of teaspoons and forks clinking delicately on china, but instead upon curtain-up we discover a war scene of brutal chaos: World War I is in full flight and young soldiers are dropping like flies.

The story revolves around young Lady Constance Chatterley, who is married to the tall aristocratic Sir Clifford Chatterley.

Clifford has come home from the Great War paralysed from the waist down, emotionally distant and cold. Connie, in response, embarks on an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, and subsequently experiences a dawning realization that she cannot survive without true connection of both the body and the mind.

Cathy Marston has achieved a lot with her interpretation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. She manages to incorporate flashbacks to war (Clifford’s), half-forgotten parties (Connie’s) and marriages cast aside (Mellors’) without the storytelling reverting to mimicry. Her style is honest and fecund, living on the strength of the powerfully erotic pas de deux peppered throughout. The choreography provides a chance for Eline Malègue to shine as Connie: her emotional vulnerability and technical brilliance stunned the audience on opening night, and her chemistry with Raphael Bouchard’s Mellors was pitch perfect.

The role of Sir Clifford Chatterley is taken by Dane Holland, who inhabits the aristocratic stiffness and emotional tightness of the character perfectly. He also strikes the right notes in the creepy maternal relationship that ultimately blossoms between Clifford and Mrs. Bolton, his nurse (danced by Sahra Maira). The role of Connie’s sister Hilda was danced with verve and charm by Emma Garau Cima, and Vanesa G.R. Montoya was earthy and athletic as Bertha.

The ballet, like the novel itself, has a certain briskness to its form and execution. It trots along at a pace, skims over extraneous details but has an uncanny knack at evoking a sense of place and time once it gets going.

Costume designer Bregje van Balen designed fluid period costumes that moved beautifully with the choreography. Special mention must go to the minimalist, highly contemporary set and lighting design designed by Lorenzo Savoini. The sharply-raked upstage evoked by turns the killing fields of battle, the rolling hills of youthful frolicks and the path to a new life. Likewise the hanging neon rods; their spareness offered a kind of stylish versatility to a story so firmly anchored in a particular historical moment.

I predict this work will find itself in company repertoires around the world over the next few years. It’s emotional, unsentimental and above all, tells a story that still rings true.

****1