Review: THE GREAT GATSBY, Sadler's Wells

Top tier dancing and lucid storytelling from the Leeds-based company.

By: May. 18, 2023
Review: THE GREAT GATSBY, Sadler's Wells
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Review: THE GREAT GATSBY, Sadler's Wells A visit from Leeds-based Northern Ballet every Spring at Sadler's Wells is always a highlight of the dance calendar, and never more so when at their glittering best with their unique dance interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. David Nixon's choreography was first seen in 2013, and now, as the company finds its feet under new Artistic Director and former Royal Ballet Principal, Federico Bonelli, they are a polished delight.

This tale of the roaring 20s should not work as a ballet number; its multiple lead characters and nuanced relationships are not straightforward but Northern Ballet is a specialist in this domain. In what might be a daunting prospect for many companies, they demonstrate their talent for putting complex narratives to movement whilst making it accessible.

If you haven't seen the show before and the novel is a hazy memory from A-Level literature, it will take a moment to put the pieces together, but by mid Act I and the arrive of Tom Buchanan's (Gavin McCaig) lover Myrtle (Helen Bogatch), their impassioned relationship which moves swiftly from violence to a passionate reconciliation will have you engrossed.

However this Gatsby is a head-to-toe handsome production. Nixon is also responsible for the dreamy flapper costumes which waft beautifully on stage, they could be more glittery or kitsch but they are perfectly judged. Working together with Jérôme Kaplan's minimal but effective set design, it's a stylish affair demonstrating sharp-eyed attention to detail.

For opening night, Dominique Larose inhibits the character of the immature and affected Daisy, Gatsby's former lover. Despite challenging choreography, she flows smoothly, her body only occupied with the storytelling. Her fluttering lashes no doubt reaching the very back of the circle seats, she is a charmingly skittish. By contrast, Heather Lehan as Daisy's friend, Jordan offers a sterner take, her evolving relationship with Nick Carraway (Sean Bates) far more measured and mature.

Joseph Taylor as the central character is more guarded, a quiet observer, but with a commanding stage presence and a confident storyteller who is at his sensitive best in the flashback scenes where he reflects on his love for a younger Daisy (Rachel Gillespie).

A word too for George Liang, as Myrtle's husband, George Wilson. The first scene at his garage, establishing the turbulent nature of his relationship with his wife is a highlight, their sizzling chemistry leaves the audience captive as to their feelings about each other. It's lustful but clouded by suspicion and danced with an abundance of passion.

All this intrigue against the backdrop of the lavish party scenes, elevated by a strong corps de ballet with plenty of flat-out dancing in the fun Charleston section and the raucous shenanigans at Tom's New York apartment. Act II makes space for more action between the central characters without the ensemble scenes as the drama intensifies before the immediacy of the shocking conclusion.

It's interesting to reflect that for all the connotations of Casanova, the ballet revived by the company last year, Nixon's Gatsby is every bit as seductive, if not more so than anything else in the Northern Ballet repertoire. The weight of the narrative may take some time to relax into and would probably be at its most enjoyable on a second viewing. The technically secure dancing and the lucid storytelling make for a captivating treat.

The Great Gatsby is at Sadler's Wells until 20 May

Photo Credit: Johan Persson