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The Great Gatsby

The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Great choreography, great music, great costumes. The ballet adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby, is, well, great.

Not only does the production have to live up to a literary classic and numerous stage and screen adaptations (even opera), but it has to translate the whole story into a medium without words. To do this, Nixon, the choreographer, claims he had to ‘capture the heart of the emotions’ the story explores. And he does.

I’m still reeling from Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation, who could fill DiCaprio’s shoes? Well, who needs brogues when you can have ballet shoes. Move over Jay-Z, Sir Rodney Bennett CBE has written the new, definitive score for The Great Gatsby. From the first bars of the overture, the orchestra delivers a seamless fusion of soaring classical music and roaring twenties jazz.  Bennett’s score oozes confidence and glamour, and a large pinch of Gershwin’s style. I’m surprised to find a couple of pre-recorded tracks with vocals thrown in as well. There are even a few nods to the music and aesthetic of the silent movies from Fitzgerald’s era in the score and choreography.

Nixon brings the party scenes to life with the Charleston, the tango, ballet (obviously), and a little drunken furniture-waving. Yet Gatsby (Batley) lurks, silent and still, on the edges of the raucous festivities. Nixon portrays Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy (Leebolt) through repetition and memory sequences. In one scene the lovers keep going over the same routine, while that sequence is replicated by three couples in the background, all dressed as Gatsby remembers himself and Daisy. Later on, caught between the nostalgia of the past and the reality of the present, he dances with both Daisy as he remembers her, and Daisy as she is now. The result is powerful and tragic. The lovers could do with a little more chemistry, but I’m just nit-picking here.

The standard of dancing is, predictably, fantastic. Lee-Baker is particularly heart-breaking to watch as the mechanic. Rejected by his wife, he dances with a car tyre, easily the best performance and choreography in the production. His acting and dancing are superb.

The dazzling costumes just keep on coming: think sharp suits and Stetsons for the men, and flowing, sparkly drop-waist dresses for the women. The backdrop to all this is the jetty with the green light flashing beyond it, and a few simple but beautiful sets. I was worried about how they would do one scene: how could anyone pull off a car crash in a ballet without it being ridiculous? Believe me, there is nothing funny about the way the production pulls this one off. Northern Ballet deliver tragedy par excellence.

If you can’t watch the production in Canterbury, follow the tour to London, or, hell, Norwich, why not? Just make sure you see The Great Gatsby.

  • Dance Theatre
  • Adapted from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Choreography, direction and costume design: David Nixon OBE with Patricia Doyle
  • Music: Sir Rodney Bennett CBE
  • Conductor: John Pryce-Jones
  • Cast includes: Tobias Batley, Martha Leebolt and Isaac Lee-Baker
  • The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
  • Until 1st November 2014 ( then ON TOUR)
  • Time: 19.30 (Running time: 2hrs 30mins)
  • Review by S.A. McCracken
  • 29 October 2014

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