Choreography & Direction by David Nixon OBE
Music by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett OBE
The glint of green light across the waterfront – a spectre of hope, curiosity, and the nightmare of A-Level English students up and down the country. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of concealment and life-balancing ironies is the perfect ballet in waiting, with its opulent decor the idealistic. And even the most fleetingly familiar with the work of David Nixon’s time at Northern Ballet will know that narrative-based productions are the lifeblood of the company’s repertoire, so there’s a complete understanding of what tempted Nixon towards The Great Gatsby – framing for choreography.
A love affair of the ages, there’s a plethora to work with within the production’s first Act as emotions spill across the stage – from the oil-stained workshops to the rafters’ high pearl walls of Gatsby’s manor-home, all concealing the treachery and unhappiness residing in these new money American facades. It enables Nixon a blank canvas of sorts, where colour is devoid for the most part, used sparingly within Tim Mitchell’s lighting to provide mood and tone, rather than outright spectacle. Enriching Nixon’s emotional intentions to come through, this afternoon’s performance finds Kevin Poeung, Saeka Shirai and Riku Ito balancing the lead trio of Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby.
Act two is where the edges fray as the emotional integrity dips somewhat as duets make way for pushes of false, unnecessary pathos, where the crux should lie on the dancers rather than flashbacks and intermingling of Young and Contemporary Daisy and Gatsby. Ito already has the shorter stick to work with, the titular Gatsby already inhibited by the lack of a voice, and already a reserved character, the role becomes lost amongst the sea of dancers, unable to stand out as clearly as Nick or Daisy. While Shirai battles with the constant back and forth movements between the two men, becoming lost in the context of the affair rather than a being of her own autonomy.
And if anything, like the book, Nick carries the narrative from one strand to the next, Poeung’s movements a reflection of the flowing motion of the story – the turning of the page so to speak. Precise, and engaging with troupe scenarios, Poeung has no difficulty in communicating the thoughts and actions of Nick, aided tremendously by Alessandra Bramante’s Jordan – Daisy’s best friend and Nick’s (somewhat) love interest. Her pointe is clean, and more modern attitudes are a pleasure to watch as she skirts around the men, more than another performing solo. The centre point of brilliance is Rachael Gillespie’s unfortunate Myrtle, love interest of Daisy’s husband Tom, who captures a raw naivety in both solo performances and duets with Harris Beattie as husband George – whose visceral hurt at the betrayal of his wife makes for the show’s most consequential sequences, funnelling the anger not only in tandem with the movement but sublimely with the score
Bobbing, ducking, and weaving through the colossal pearly flats, Jérôme Kaplan’s set design makes for a subdued but crystalline stage for the troupe, accentuating Nixon’s period-accurate costume design, and honing the audiences’ scope of the dancers, enabling them to locate the key players and action within a scene. And where it may lack the pizzazz and gaudiness of the roaring twenties gold trim, it makes up for in practicality and reflecting of Mitchell’s lighting, enabling a striking sense of tone to come from something as simple as a morning glow through the window.
Rarely, if ever, do we see such care taken by audiences to watch the orchestra pit, but a wonderful insight into the talents on display here as youngsters crone their necks downwards to the pit. A view demonstrating the vitalness and dexterity of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, who under Rodney Bennett’s musical construction and guidance concoct such a diverse interpretation of Jazz, melding it and infusing wooden and percussive elements otherwise wholly unexpected, but magnificently effective.
Nixon’s ballet excels in areas, but not necessarily in the correct ones. Where the production captures the long summer heat and intensity of Mertle’s anguish or George’s pain – it lets down its principal leads with a waifish Daisy and monotone Gatsby. Where jealousy and sensuality leap and bound is not with the main story, but the side narrative – all the elements of Northern Ballet’s Great Gatsby are present, but dancing to a different tune than the story itself.
Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby runs at the Festival Theatre until April 23rd. ~
Tickets for which may be obtained here.