Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy. And I’m dancing at the National Portrait Gallery. | HerCanberra

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Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy. And I’m dancing at the National Portrait Gallery.

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Calling all Canberra Cathies: it’s time to grab your reddest dress and don your greenest eyeshadow, the biggest celebration of Brontë and Bush is back.

Performing Kate Bush’s iconic interpretive dance and singing along to the Emily Brontë-inspired song, The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever (TMWHDE) is celebrating its sixth year of raising funds for Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) in the capital.

Inspired by UK performance art group, Shambush—whose 2013 event, the Ultimate Kate Bush Experience inspired Samantha Wareing (an Australian music teacher living in Berlin) to create TMWHDE—the event brings together wutherers from around the world to roll and fall in green for an important cause.

“Local groups of people get together, dress in red, dance Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights choreography but use it as an opportunity to raise funds for services or charities that support women,” explains Canberra TMWHDE organiser Brooke Thomas.

“It’s this great blend of encouraging people to try dance in a really supportive environment, while also raising money for important causes. And it’s just turned into a global event really organically, which is a really delightful thing to be a part of.”

Bringing TMWHDE to Canberra in 2017, Brooke instantly knew she wanted all of the funds donated by dancers (and TMWHDE fans) to go to the DVCS to help provide support, advice, domestic violence resources, and services in Canberra and beyond.

Raising several thousands of dollars for the DVCS over the years, Brooke and her dancers are always proud of making a difference in the community.

“The novel Wuthering Heights is based on such an abusive, troubling relationship fundamentally, that it kind of made sense to support an organisation that helps to deal with abusive relationships,” she says.

“I actually know quietly that over the years that there are quite a few survivors of domestic violence who have participated as dancers and that’s a really special thing to me, that they participate and they feel a part of this really supportive group of people.”

But this year’s Canberra performance is extra special: it promises more Brontë than ever before.

Taking place at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) where the once-in-a-lifetime exhibition Shakespeare to Winehouse: Icons from the National Portrait Gallery London is currently taking center stage, dancers will be commemorating the only surviving group portrait of the Brontë sisters.

The Brontë Sisters (Anne Brontë; Emily Brontë; Charlotte Brontë) c. 1834
by Patrick Branwell Brontë
oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London.
Purchased, 1914
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Painted by their 17-year-old brother Branwell around 1834, it’s a rare piece of art.

“Charlotte would have been 18, Emily 16, and Anne only 14 when they sat for it, so it was created more than a decade before the publication of the sisters’ best-known novels: Anne’s Agnes Grey, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, and Emily’s awesome Wuthering Heights – all published in 1847 under assumed male names,” explains NPG Curator Joanna Gilmour.

“It spent many years folded up and gathering dust on top of a cupboard before National Portrait Gallery London acquired it in 1914. But, if anything, this just adds to the portrait’s appeal.”

“For one thing, it seems to speak to how gendered society was, and how closed the literary world was to women of the sisters’ class and situation—making it also a powerful demonstration of how extraordinary they were.”

According to the NPG’s Manager of Learning Programs, Krysia Kitch, they were inspired by the uniqueness of the portrait to reach out to TMWHDE—not only to celebrate Shakespeare to Winehouse but to support the heart-warming event that also carries a serious message.

“The Brontë sisters wrote about love and romance but also spoke about how that could be distorted. Emily’s writing really shocked society in its depiction of brutality in the home,” she says.

“We feel it is important for national cultural institutions to reflect society and be safe spaces to explore social issues. While TMWHDE is a joyous event it also serves to raise awareness and funds for services supporting women.”

Encouraging people to rustle up a red outfit and join the performance or come along to watch the Cathie’s dance through the NPG’s Tim Fairfax Forecourt (weather permitting), the performance and rehearsals are free for all who wish to take part. The only request for Canberra wutherers is that they donate what they can to DVCS.

And while it may not be a wily, windy moor, Brooke says the proximity to the painting of the Brontë sisters makes this year’s performance even more unique.

“It’s really lovely for the Portrait Gallery to reach out. Who knows, we might even run down to the lakefront afterward and do it one more time looking out towards Canberra!”

THE ESSENTIALS

What: The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever
Where: The National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes
When: Saturday 2 July, 10:30 am – 11:00 am
Web: facebook.com/TMWHDEcanberra

Image supplied.

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