Review: Northern Ballet, ‘The Great Gatsby’

If there’s anyone who knows that it’s all in the timing, it’s dancers. So it should come as no surprise that Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby is fortuitously appearing a mere two months before Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated adaptation of the 1925 novel. This is a canny decision: the company will undoubtedly benefit from the hype, without the accusations of bandwagon-leaping that would surely have tainted a summer production.

Cynicism aside, it’s exciting to see a novel translated for a performance where words are replaced with movement. The Great Gatsby is perhaps something of an obvious choice for this – the 1920s are currently a particularly fashionable point of reference, and the novel’s intense emotional elements do lend themselves to dance. And, indeed, many aspects of this performance are far from subtle; the costumes could have been lifted from any number of design through the decades-type books – though the dresses must be commended for swirling marvellously – and some of the characterisation is a little one-dimensional. That said, this lends the performance the accessibility and emotional intensity that can sometimes be a difficult partnership to find in classical dance.

The dancing is technically stunning. But without nuance, this is nothing, and so it is a delight to watch Hannah Bateman bring the perfect insouciance to lady golfer Jordan Baker, and Martha Leebolt’s impetuous characterisation of the childish, charming Daisy Buchanan. In the novel, however, narrator Nick Carraway develops and changes as the story goes on; here, we see him as little more than a businessman and mediator. But this is perhaps understandable – the focus has to be on the love story, the glitz and the catastrophe, and this is done beautifully.

One of the highlights of the show is the experience of watching Benjamin Mitchell as George Wilson, about to make a life-ruining decision, and yet still so exquisite in his movement. Infatuation spoils everything. We all know that, and even for those who aren’t aware of the storyline, the production makes it clear that nothing good can last. An obvious choice it may be, but this is a gorgeous performance – and, of course, it was over all too soon.

Originally published in The Student.

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