Baz Luhrmann might have caused a stir with the release of his Great Gatsby film in 2013, but he was pipped to the post by this ambitious ballet. David Nixon, Northern Ballet’s Artistic Director added this work to an impressive list of narrative creations, including Hamlet, Wuthering Heights and Dracula, in a sell-out run last year.
Given the complexity of the story, the ballet treads admirably close to the novel, keeping the subtleties of heat and tension close to the surface. And what a light-footed company! Taking the flying twenties steps up onto pointe adds a speed and lightness perfect for the world of Gatsby, where everything is lighter and more beautiful than reality could ever allow.
Northern Ballet | The Great Gatsby: perfect partners
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is widely considered to be the Great American Novel. It’s narrated by the enigmatic Nick Carraway, whose neighbour Jay Gatsby throws outrageous parties for the stars and everyone else in his glittering mansion of self-made riches. Just across the harbour lives the unhappily married Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin and the focus of all Gatsby’s dreams. Gatsby’s unknown past and his longing for Daisy are at the centre of a dreamy tale of illusion, adultery and one long, hot summer.
Northern Ballet are in many ways perfect for this project - a company of talented dance-actors in the hands of a prolific and clear-sighted choreographer. Nixon sprints through the plot, nipping from oily garage to ocean-gazing mansion with the clarity allowed by Jérôme Kaplan’s statement sets. White curtains billow in mansions and lights gleam limpidly on water behind rich terraces.
Louche and reticent or ablaze with nimble energy, the characters are adroitly drawn. Daisy’s stiff appearance of happiness and naivete, her husband Tom Buchanan’s brutal sexuality and Gatsby’s elusiveness are knitted into the steps. Gatsby and Daisy (performed by a gorgeously sprightly Martha Leebolt and carefully controlled Tobias Batley) dance a chemistry-fuelled pas-de-deux of reunion, mimicked by the figures of their youthful selves outside the windows.
But this is topped by a passionately acrobatic bedroom pas-de-deux between Tom’s mistress Myrtle and her cuckolded husband George. Isaac Lee-Baker is a pleading, desperate wonder as George, a physical man oppressed into primness, whose animality stretches out of every limb.
Playing up to the twenties style, Nixon’s choreography pulls off a tricksy ballroom-ballet crossover. Dinner dances become on pointe like high-speed, gymnastic figure-skating, and the whole cast skims the stage as though barely touching the surface.
The Great Gatsby: ballet dancers try tango and Charleston
Northern Ballet underwent tango and Charleston lessons in preparation for this work, and the effort pays off in exuberant energy for the Roaring Twenties. The soundtrack is a compilation of pieces by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, crooning jazz and upbeat swing, and mood lighting by Tim Mitchell. But don’t expect Luhrmannesque opulence, there’s too much speed for that, and Nixon’s chiffony costumes provide glamour enough.
Ultimately the Great Gatsby won’t be encapsulated in a ballet. Too much of the novel is symbol and suggestion to be conveyed without words, and those not familiar with it are advised to read up before the show. But for such an impossible task, London ballet lovers will get an impressive feat of story-telling, and a gorgeous night of twenties glitz. The final scenes play out to Bennett’s I Never Went Away, a haunting conclusion to this version of a twentieth century classic.
For more dance shows, London 2015, click here.
|What||Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby, Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Roseberry Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
24 Mar 15 – 28 Mar 15, Also at 14:30 on the 26th and 28th
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|