Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby – A Review

Forget the film of the same name which is attracting a lot of attention at the moment – the Gatsby you didn’t want to miss was the Northern Ballet production at Sadler’s Wells. If you did, I’m very sorry, because London was the last stop on their UK tour so you’ve missed your chance for this year at least. But I’m sure it will be back.

The Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, David Nixon, is a talented man – he was responsible for the choreography, direction, scenario and costume design, which all work brilliantly. The Northern Ballet pride themselves on their reputation for telling stories through dance, and this ballet delivers on that promise. A little prior knowledge of the main characters and their relationships helps, but even without that you could easily follow the story, both in terms of the unfolding events and the emotional relationships between the characters, through the clarity with which it is told.

I was a little unsure about it at the beginning – I found the the first five or ten minutes slow and the choreography unpromising. But I needn’t have worried – Nixon soon hit his stride with some interesting pas de trois and lifts (especially those for Gatsby/Nick and Tom/Nick); a witty charleston enhanced by ballet technique; and some dramatic moments, as when Tom strikes Myrtle – not just a theatrical slap but a full-on punch in the face, which brings the whole party to a sudden, shocked end.

great gatsby ballet london review

The dancers matched the choreography in excellence. I particularly liked Kevin Poeung who gave us a sensitive, nuanced Nick, with a leap that equalled dancers twice his size. John Hull was a muscular, masculine Tom while Giuliano Contadini was elegant and touching as Jay. Julie Charlet manfully overcame the frizzy blond wig she’d been landed with (the one weak point in an otherwise ravishing set of costumes) to  bring us a lively, innocent Daisy.

The first act closed with a haunting pas de deux for Daisy and Gatsby and the second act brought more delights – a dramatic fight, both anguished and sexy between Myrtle and her husband George (Victoria Sibson and Benjamin Mitchell), a cool, ironic tango for the company, a romantic pair of pas de deux blending past and present for Gatsby and Daisy and their younger selves (Jeremy Curnier and Antoinette Brooks-Daw) and a moving solo for Gatsby before the shock ending.

The sets, designed by Jérôme Kaplan, were witty and versatile and the lighting, by Tim Mitchell, bathed the stage in exactly the right golden nostalgic glow. The music was a compilation from the works of Richard Rodney Bennett, which perfectly expressed the era and the emotional resonance.

The whole production left one wanting to see it all over again. What a shame there were so few London performances – I can’t wait for it to return.