Northern Ballet at Sadler’s Wells – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Nick Carraway – Giuliano Contadini
Myrtle Wilson – Victoria Sibson
George Wilson – Benjamin Mitchell
Jordan Baker – Hannah Bateman
Daisy Buchanan – Martha Leebolt
Tom Buchanan – Kenneth Tindall
Jay Gatsby – Tobias Batley
Young Daisy – Michela Paolacci
Young Gatsby – Jeremy Curnier
People of New York / Gangsters / Myrtle’s Friends – Pippa Moore, Jessica Morgan, Abigail Prudames, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, L.uisa Rocco, Olivia Holland, Darren Goldsmith, Hironao Takahashi, Ashley Dixon, John Hull, Thomas Aragones, Sebastian Loe
Housekeeper, Maids and Butlers – Jessica Morgan, Isabella Gasparini, Abigail Prudames, Teresa Saavedra-Bordes, Jessica Cohen, Olivia Holland, Joshua Barwick, Graham Kotowich, Nicola Gervasi, Jeremy Curnier, Joseph Taylor
Pammy Buchanan, Daisy’s daughter – lo Goode
Gatsby Party Guests – Ion Gilchrist, Jessica Morgan, Abigail Prudames, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Rachael Gillespie, Isabella Gasparini, Julie Charlet, Mariana Rod rigues, Dreda Blow, Kevin Poeung, Nicola Gervasi, Isaac Lee-Baker, Matthew Topliss, Sean Bates, Matthew Broadbent, Sebastian Loe, John Hull, Thomas Aragones, Joseph Taylor, Darren Goldsmith

Northern Ballet Sinfonia
John Pryce-Jones

David Nixon – Choreography & Costume design
Jérôme Kaplan – Set design
Tim Mitchell – Lighting
Richard Rodney Bennett [orch. John Longstaff and Gavin Sutherland] – Music

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 14 May, 2013
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1

The Great Gatsby, Northern Ballet. Photograph: Bill CooperThe quest for a good story for a ballet is never-ending – choreographers keep coming back to the same narratives (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle etc.) because very few are wholly suitable for dance. Many books have complicated plotlines and convoluted relationships between the characters which are simply impossible to communicate to an audience without long programme notes and plenty of mime; the great choreographer George Balanchine once tersely commented: “There are no mothers-in-law in ballet.”

David Nixon, who has developed a distinctive house-style for Northern Ballet of dance-dramas is always seeking to prove him wrong, but his The Great Gatsby is not going to gainsay Balanchine for long. The book may be short, but there is a complicated mixture of narrative lines which would provide a challenge to any choreographer. Nixon has adopted a somewhat streamlined approach, with scenes changing rapidly, thanks in large part to Jérôme Kaplan’s sliding panels which create a framework for the dance, and while it certainly moves things along, there is often confusion about what exactly is going on and who all these people are, and precious little time for any development of character. Indeed, the main characters are given movement quirks which identify but do not illuminate them, and there is little if any development. The result is a headlong rush through the narrative which is rarely anything other than superficial. An exception is Benjamin Mitchell’s impressive George Wilson, the garage mechanic (whose wife is Tom Buchanan whose wide, Daisy, is Jay Gatsby’s love from his youth – see what I mean?). Mitchell is given a very different movement vocabulary from the other men, skeetering about with a tyre in his first scene (echoes of Matthew Bourne’s Car Man), his movements whiplash but nevertheless imbued with pathos for this cuckolded husband. In the same vein, Victoria Sibson is also quite superb as his good-time-girl wife, kicking up a storm in the Act One apartment party but also acting and moving with meaning in her anguished bedroom encounter with her husband in Act Two (a pas de deux which evokes Carmen and Don José in Roland Petit’s Carmen).

The Great Gatsby, Northern Ballet. Photograph: Bill CooperMartha Leebolt is superb as Daisy Buchanan, all platinum curls and multiple pirouettes, so it is a pity she is not developed more as a character. Equally, while Tobias Batley as Gatsby cannot be faulted for his commitment to a highly challenging part and his impressively strong dancing and partnering, opulent wistfulness is not something he manages– he spends a lot of the time with his hands in his pockets, no doubt to convey nonchalance, but as an insight into his character it lacks a certain depth. Nixon has chosen to present the young Gatsby and Daisy in flashbacks, but these are so frequent as to become intrusive to the storyline, and again do nothing to allow us to understand what makes the adult Gatsby tick. I liked Giuliano Contadini as Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s friend, who exuded great personality and danced with confidence, and Kenneth Tindall was a bull-like Tom Buchanan with an impressive presence. The company dance with immense commitment and brio, clearly enjoying the show-off opportunities in the Act One mansion party, the men in particular hurling themselves into jumps and tricks-a-plenty.

The Roaring Twenties is something of a millstone period for all creatives, and this work does well to stand up to the considerable challenge of not making the whole thing a kitschy spoof (the only truly successful portrayal is Nijinska’s Les Biches, a contemporary vision dating from 1924). Nixon’s own costume designs are stunning and totally in period, but Art deco chic was missing in Kaplan’s sets, which rapidly-moving as they are, do not evoke the opulence of Gatsby’s world – the Act Two party in his West Egg mansion looks like a tea dance in a prison refectory. The choice of the late Richard Rodney Bennett is not always a happy one. While this pot-pourri score made up from many of his compositions (including, ironically two sections from Jazz Calendar, an Ashton ballet with designs by Derek Jarman) is a pleasant reminder of both his talent and versatility, it is rarely right for this work. The sound aesthetic is most certainly not the 1920s, and, sadly, the most successful number in terms of fusing dance and music – the Charleston and Irving Berlin’s Midnight Choo Choo – are not his. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under John Pryce-Jones play the entire score with élan, audibly enjoying the breadth of styles and moods it portrays.

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