For a slim book, The Great Gatsby has more plot than you'd think. David Nixon's new production for Northern Ballet races through it, spelling out the ambiguous relationships of F Scott Fizgerald's novel. It doesn't have time to develop character or atmosphere.
Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is one of the most celebrated evocations of the Jazz Age. It's a tale of Long Island parties and the American Dream, holding onto the past while rushing into the future. The name and the imagery still hold sway: Nixon's ballet nips in ahead of the upcoming Baz Luhrmann film.
Nixon deals with the story's past events by putting them on stage. Young Gatsby and his beloved Daisy are seen in memory, danced by Jeremy Curnier and Michela Paolacci, and in the story's 1920s present, danced by Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt. Sinister figures in black coats and gangster hats give Gatsby explicit links with a criminal underworld.
With these tweaks, Nixon tells the story at breakneck speed. Parties look hasty rather than wild, as flappers wave gaily at each other before sprinting off to keep up with the next plot twist. Most of the characters are defined by a trademark gesture or two; there isn't time for more.
Batley is an elegant Gatsby, with smooth lines and a high, easy jump, but it's hard to be a figure of mystery when people keep popping up to explain your past for you. There's nothing wrong with changing your source material, but Nixon needs to make his Gatsby work in dance terms, not just by miming the revision notes.
The ballet picks up when it slows down. The second party scene is one of the production's strongest. As women in autumnal brown slink through tango dances with their partners, Daisy and Gatsby match their steps while keeping their distance. Her husband prowls through the party, moving in rhythm without a partner. When Daisy dances with Gatsby and onlooker Nick, she jumps from one man to the other, feet kicking as she flies.
Jérôme Kaplan's stylish sets allow Nixon to whisk from place to place. The garage suggests a painting by Edward Hopper – more substantial than the dream houses of the rich, suggested by billowing curtains for Daisy's house, or a long jetty for the beach at Gatsby's mansion.
Nixon designed the pretty period costumes, which flutter with chiffon and sequins. Richard Rodney Bennett's music, chosen and arranged by John Longstaff, has swooping movie love themes and touches of jazz.
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