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Northern Ballet – The Great Gatsby – Sadler’s Wells

There are some stories made to be danced and The Great Gatsby turns out to be one of these.

Ten years after the premiere of this ballet, Northern Ballet’s fine production, choreographed by David Nixon CBE, is a pacy dance pleasure with a poignant poetic core.

The Great Gatsby, production, 2023, dancers Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor. Photo Emily Nuttall.
The Great Gatsby, production, 2023, dancers Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor. Photo Emily Nuttall.

Pleasingly this balletic interpretation of the story, now one hundred years old, is less readily judgemental than otherwise portrayed. This makes it both surprising and engaging.

The sneering class judgment usually laid on Myrtle has transformed into sympathetic understanding, There’s also more of an emphasis on Gatsby’s suggested business corruption than the retreat of Daisy and Tom into old money privilege. The bonds of attachment created by family life, however unsatisfactory, are emphasised too. Tom, while still violent and controlling is also shown as a young soldier, lost and afraid, on a battlefield. It was there he, like Gatsby, was sustained by a shared, dream of the young Daisy.

The dancing by the Leeds-based Northern Ballet dance company is exciting. There are impossibly extended legs, much grace, ensemble party pieces and groups of male dancers leaping together across the Sadler’s stage.

Jay Gatsby was danced on opening night at Sadler’s by Principal Soloist, Joseph Taylor. He’s a tall and elegant dancer with long limbs used to full effect. He can also act, bringing a real sense of chemistry when partnered with Daisy.

There’s a pleasing physical contrast between him and the believable portrayal of the flawed man Daisy chose to marry, danced by Gavin McCaig.

First soloist, Dominique Larose who dances Daisy, brings to her role a butterfly, mercurial impression of charm, gaiety and indecision. Someone to fall in love with but not safely.

There’s a fascinating dance duality employed in the show, revealing young Daisy and Gatsby as different people then. These younger versions of themselves shadow and replace the adults they have become. Young Gatsby is danced by Harris Beattie and young Daisy with unknowing, flippant joy by Rachael Gillespie.

What is devastatingly communicated by this means is the differences between then and the present that cannot be ignored. A distant past cannot be picked up again as Gatsby wishes as if all that has passed between has not. Daisy has lived a full married life, a life it is hard to leave behind. Unlike Gatsby, who, despite his acquired status has a heart that has remained moored in the past, unable to separate from his youthful, romantic attachment to Daisy.

The beauty, poetry and futility of being perpetually trapped in a dream such as this is most movingly portrayed.

Unless you are familiar with the story it’s worth buying a programme that has an excellent synopsis. This also makes apparent the interchangeability of Daisy and Gatsby with their younger selves which might otherwise be confusing. Once you have caught onto this shadowing however it is enlightening in terms of character and outcome and is where dance can triumph as a form.

One of the great astonishments in the show is the portrayal of Myrtle and George Wilson, the couple who have the garage in the story. Often portrayed as gawdy and cheap, Myrtle is instead portrayed as a sensuous young woman following an illicit romantic dream of her own. The gap between this dream and reality, again becomes painfully moving. Helen Bogatch who dances Myrtle is fabulous, you don’t want her vivid flame to leave the stage as inevitable death approaches.

As for her husband, George, he is extraordinarily and athletically danced by company dancer, George Liang. It would have been a pleasure to watch him dance alone all evening.

The period costume design was also by choreographer David Nixon. The costumes are evocative and sumptuous, bringing vividness and dynamic complementary flow to the dancing. These were created for this show by the company’s in-house, always incredible, wardrobe team.

Set design is by Jerome Kaplan and is adaptable, clever. The portrayal of the dock on Gatsby’s bay with the lure of the green light on Daisy’s dock is everything you would hope for.

The music played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia in the theatre orchestral pit is sometimes of the era of the story including Jazz and sometimes lyrical and lush. it’s always splendid and engaging.

Don’t think you know the story of The Great Gatsby and you don’t need to see it again. This is a terrific interpretation and a joy to watch.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s modern classic takes you back to the roaring 20s with flapper girls, glitz and Golden Age glamour.

Northern Ballet’s sell-out sensation is back – get ready for the most glamorous party in town.

Mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby has a penchant for lavish parties and beautiful women. As the sparkling façade of his world begins to slip, the loneliness, obsession and tragedy that lies beneath is revealed in one of Northern Ballet’s most treasured productions.

The classic American novel is lifted from page to stage by David Nixon CBE’s glorious choreography as dancers glide across the floor in gorgeous Chanel-inspired costumes. A cinematic score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express) is played by a live orchestra.

Bursting with passion, style and drama, don’t miss this blockbuster ballet.

Northern Ballet The Great Gatsby
16 – 20 May 2023
https://www.sadlerswells.com/

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