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Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby – Milton Keynes Theatre

Composer: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett

Choreographer, Director &Costume Designer: David Nixon

Reviewer: Maggie Constable


The Great Gatsby Milton keynes Jason TozerPublished in 1925, The Great Gatsby is one of the most celebrated evocations of the Jazz Era. It’s a story of Long Island parties in 20s New York and hedonists living the high life, but it is also about mysterious pasts, lost loves and what the future might hold. David Nixon’s ballet is very much in the zeitgeist, coming to the stage just before Baz Luhrmann’s much anticipated film,and tonight it arrived at Milton Keynes theatre, where Northern Ballet is a regular and much-loved visitor.

Young mid-westerner Nick Carraway, visiting his cousin Daisy, meets his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby, a secretive millionaire. At first Gatsby’s world seems intoxicating and exciting but gradually the curtain falls away to reveal to Nick a life which in reality is full of isolation, obsession and even a fatal love affair. Story ballets are the essence of Northern Ballet’s repertoire, and it’s easy to understand why director and choreographer David Nixon was attracted by The Great Gatsby. He clearly loves the book. The clothing of the period, the jazz, the dance music and, not least of all, the fatal love affair – just right for ballet. However, while this ballet portrays the period and the essence of the book beautifully, it does not get across the complicated story completely, so for any audience member who has not read The Great Gatsby following the tangled relationships could be a problem. Whether or not this really matters is debatable – the whole is so enjoyable.

For most of the first act Nixon succeeds in setting the scene in every sense. In this he is helped by Jérôme Kaplan’s superbly simple but gorgeous and clever set design and also by the amazing use of lighting designed by Tim Mitchell Their effects assist in explaining shifts of place and time masterfully. The range of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s jazz music adds well to the overall effect and a real orchestra makes the difference. The choreography is wonderful – a melange of classical ballet, dances, like the Charleston and some contemporary steps. Sharp direction from Nixon too. There are some lovely moments as when we see Daisy and Gatsby’s reunion in contrast to their memories of a wartime love affair, and with the suggestion of gangster violence through which Gatsby may have gained wealth. The tango dancing in the second act and the use of shadows and mirrors will also last in one’s memory.

Nixon deals with the story’s past events by showing them on stage. Young Gatsby and his much loved Daisy are seen as Gatsby’s memories, danced subtly by Jeremy Curnier and Michela Paolacci, The 1920s characters, ie in the ballet’s present, are danced by Tobias Batley and Martha Leebolt. Both are not only extremely talented dancers but are utterly convincing in their acting, and their portrayal of the fated relationship is perfect. Martha Lebolt’s facial expressions and gestures are so powerful yet delicate while Batley has a real stage presence. Kenneth Tindall is totally believable as the unpleasant and aggressive philanderer Tom Buchanan, and Giuliano Contadini, performs a nicely understated but very likeable Nick Carraway. Victoria Sibson in the rôle of the luckless Myrtle gives a very creditable and emotional performance. All other dancers and coryphee are of the high standard which one has come to expect of Northern Ballet.

A magical evening’s entertainment, not to be missed.

Runs until Sat 20 April 2013

Picture: Jason Tozer


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