The Grand Theatre, Leeds – until 18 March 2023
Reviewed by Sal Marino
How does one translate a novel so heavily narrated and rich in language into a ballet? The key to this lies with David Nixon who has mastered the art of fictional story telling through dance in the form of The Great Gatsby. The production is breath-taking, and I mean that literally. My initial thoughts were that many scenes would be shrouded in glitz and excess due to a high razzamatazz feel of the popular film with Leonardo DiCaprio but what Northern Ballet have created is something far more meaningful: deeply moving, beautiful and elegant. The energetic glamorous numbers are there but the tone is classy, not overdone or crass. I loved it and didn’t expect to feel so filled with heart-felt emotion in several places. I would go further in saying that for me, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby comes alive and communicates more meaning through the art form of dance (along with the music) as opposed to the fast-paced dialogue and over the top flamboyance that we often associate with it. Nixon’s version gives us the raw feelings of angst and yearning in a more reachable and visceral way as the choreography simply goes beyond words – you feel what the characters are feeling via the energy and frequency they emit. No words are needed.
The stage at The Grand Theatre was transformed into 1920s New York within various locations from a garage to bustling streets and lavish parties held by Gatsby. Despite being the host, Gatsby doesn’t really engage in the whole ‘partying’ activities; he’s only focused on one thing – a person – Daisy (Dominique Larose). Gatsby knew and fell in love with her years ago as a young soldier, but the war cut their love short and he never stopped thinking about her, ever. Unfortunately, all these years later, Daisy is in a toxic marriage with Tom Buchanan (Gavin McCaig), who is also having a torrid and abusive affair with Myrtle Wilson (Amber Lewis). Myrtle is also married to a long-suffering mechanic George (George Liang). Daisy’s cousin (Sean Bates) reunites Daisy and Gatsby and although we witness scenes from them of joy and serenity, their rekindled romance initiates a series of dramatic and tragic events.
Every performer, from Gatsby to the background characters are exquisite, pin-sharp – perfection. Liang exudes sheer frustration in his tortured portrayal of George Wilson – you know that he knows something is wrong and he’s being driven mad by it. The twists and turns of his body emanate such pain and longing and also radiating a lower vibrational frequency is Tom (George’s wife’s lover), who’s extremely aggressive and impatient. His body language is alarming at times as McCaig’s strong form moves so vigorously and precisely with each step and gesture. The young Gatsby and Daisy (Harris Beatie and Rachael Gillespie) melt hearts … Beatie alludes such passion and a sweet sadness that your own heart just breaks for him. And then, so cleverly and beautifully through magical synchronised choreography, Taylor as the older and mature Gatsby, becomes entwined in the young couple’s dance as his memories unfold when he looks out across the bay to where Daisy is. A green light in the skyline keeps flashing and rather like the recent green comet we have been experiencing here on earth in the last month or so, it could be a metaphor for being a harbinger of change. Gatsby has been locked in a mindset of endless longing, wanting and waiting as he looks out and reaches across to the mysterious illumination and appears trapped, so something has to give for him to resolve his issues. Indeed ‘change’ does come and if it wasn’t for the collective trauma and separation that the first world war caused perhaps all could have worked out well? But it’s never that simple and when humans don’t follow the sacred laws of love like Tom and Myrtle, discord is bound to ensue.
Every scene is outstanding, and my guest’s personal favourite was George and Myrtle’s provocative dance in the garage, mine is when Gatsby and Daisy (both the younger and older versions), connect and express their love for one another. You couldn’t have had more of a contrast from Gatsby and Daisy with regards to Myrtle and Tom – their dances being edgy and spiky (expertly done) and Daisy and Gatsby expressing a pure love bursting with passion but one that is in complete harmony – in balance and divine. Kudos must be shared with the wardrobe, technical, stage management, artistic staff, front of house staff and of course the phenomenal orchestra! The music was spectacular, and the timing of the dance and music together was just poetic! This remarkable ballet has everything – class, style, an engaging storyline and one that makes you feel and think – you couldn’t ask for more. Thank you!