I have always enjoyed watching Northern Ballet. They have a certain accessibility to their work which I find entirely refreshing- sort of an amalgamation of Royal Ballet and Matthew Bourne that makes for highly theatrical, yet beautifully choreographed works. This is also what I think makes their work much more popular for those not involved in the dance world- those who simply enjoy watching a good ‘ol ballet. Furthermore, whilst I do love the traditional Giselles, and Swan Lakes, Northern Ballet consistently take on new innovative narrative based works. Works that are on the whole much more recognisable to those not avid bunheads and so increases their viewing potential.
I feel like I had, however, a bit of a cheat card when watching The Great Gatsby; as having studied Fitzgerald’s book in great detail for my AS English Literature coursework I already had a pretty in depth knowledge of the plot, characters and emotive imagery. Which is probably why I enjoyed the ballet much more- simply because I knew what was going on! The book is in itself quite complex, with a multitude of overlapping plot lines, class conflict and twenties stereotypes- something that I felt was unclear in Northern’s piece. Additionally I spent the majority of my interval explaining what was going on to my friends so that they could actually try and engage with the second act. Having said that, I think this is not individual to Northern’s take on the American classic, but rather a barrier that any dance company would find difficult to get over, and henceforth I can’t help thinking that Northern were a bit ambitious?
Capturing the twenties glamour was certainly sometime that Northern excelled at. Gatsby’s parties, and Tom & Myrtles apartment party saw the company leap into well executed unisons (something that I particularly enjoy in pieces) and really transported the audience back in time. Mirrored also by the superb costumes and staging that really aided the storyline. In contrast, whilst I admired the duets between Daisy & Gatsby, and Myrtle & Tom I felt that they were held back by the strain of trying to narrate the story. It was therefore, a little too gestural for my liking and I felt, dare I say it, a little bored at times.
Taking on The Great Gatsby was always going to be challenging to really connect with all audience members, but to be fair Northern did a pretty good job. Furthering this, the choreography and personality of the dancers really conveyed their talent and skill and somewhat helped compensate for the complex plot.