Manic parties and manic dance, glorious swirls of colour, Chanel-inspired floating dresses and jazz from the Roaring Twenties, contrasted with the green light throbbing in the distance across the bay, so near and yet so elusive, symbol of the unobtainable - these are the two main experiences one takes away from the choreographer David Nixon of Northern Ballet’s adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s
dance, colour, vitality and witty asides, glorious lighting, set and costumes
The company has become identified with story-ballet, classical ballet with contemporary expressivity and The Great Gatsby is ideal material for them: Gatsby, the reclusive millionaire’s unrequited love for Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan’s affair with Myrtle, the garage owner’s wife and his consequent anguish. However, the subtlety of Scott Fitzgerald’s critique of the sordid underbelly of the American Dream is lacking inevitably. How much a ballet can adapt a novel is problematic but Nixon has concentrated on his own strengths, focusing on the emotional relationships and the dramatic contrasts of mood and location, where full cast dance on a wide stage, with witty touches, playing party guests against the sober, strict conformity of the serving staff, which is then followed by intense, claustrophobic love scenes.
Gatsby, danced by Joseph Taylor, often expresses his enigmatic restraint. Abigail Prudames as Daisy is a confused bright young thing. Lorenzo Trossello as Buchanan is wonderfully louche, muscular and loose-limbed - suggesting his sexuality. However the stars of the show are Minju Kang as Myrtle in her vulgarly loud orange, many layered dress. The sensitivity of her sensual love scene with Buchanan is a highlight, as is the moving portrayal by Riku Ito as her abandoned husband, George, with his heart-breaking soliloquy with a garage tyre.
Lighting by Tim Mitchell expressively compliments Jérôme Kaplan's sets: Gatsby’s airy mansion and broadwalk with its view of the bay, the warm brown colours of the sophisticated Art Deco-inspired New York apartment and the enigmatic Mirror Hall, where the dancers’ moves are surrealistically reflected, and lastly the Edward Hopper feel of the bleak tonal shades of the garage where the American Dream has failed. This is where the contrast between the benefactors of the capitalist (criminal) world and the victims of the American Dream is most vividly expressed. However, the attempt to portray Gatsby’s dealings with the underworld with cartoon-like mobsters in long black coats and hats was more humourous than sinister.
A shame that Act II loses its way: laboured plotting of ‘business’ with the car keys, and then Myrtle’s death whizzed over, leaving one cold. But the glorious Act I with its explosion of dance, colour, vitality and witty asides, glorious lighting, set and costumes make this a memorable show. It is also David Nixon’s ‘swan-song’ as we learn that he is retiring after 20 years as Artistic Director but I wish his successor, Federico Bonelli, all the best in continuing this company’s success.