Adapting the Great Gatsby into ballet has been a long ambition of David Nixon. Ian Soutar spoke to him on the eve of the world premiere
NORTHERN Ballet artistic director David Nixon first became enamoured with The Great Gatsby when he was at high school in America in the Seventies.
“I fell in love with this mysterious man, his unrelenting passion and obsession with recapturing his one true love,” he says.
As a choreographer he has long wanted to re-tell the great American novel in dance and has finally achieved his ambition with the ballet which received its world premiere in Leeds this week and comes to Sheffield next week.
So why has it taken until now to be realised? He says he always felt it would require the dancers to be at a high level of expertise both technically and expressively and judged that Northern Ballet had reached that point.
There is always a challenge in making a dance work out of something from another medium, especially bringing to life a great work of literature and give some sense to the magnificence of the language while telling the story. In the case of The Great Gatsby there is a lot of dialogue between the characters rather than narrative action.
“The conversation is not of the ‘I love you’ variety which dance loves to do but more about saying, ‘Hello’ and ‘What would you like to drink?’ because it is full of parties.”
On the other hand parties do lend themselves to choreography, one would think. “That’s the expectation of people, when they imagine The Great Gatsby they think of costumes and parties,” says Nixon.
Central to Scott Fitzgerald’s story is the mysterious Jay Gatsby and his unrelenting passion and obsession with recapturing his one true love, Daisy.
“It’s not just that, we take the seven main characters from the book and tell the stories around all of them,” says the director who choreographed it with his regular collaborator, Patricia Doyle.
The music is a compilation from the work of Richard Rodney Bennett who had been consulted about the project before his sudden death last year. “His music is jazz-based and he has a massive range and we have used jazz compositions, film scores and symphonic pieces,” says Nixon. And, yes, it does include snatches from his most famous composition, the Murder on the Orient Express soundtrack.
Set designer Jerome Kaplan has taken inspiration from painter Edward Hopper’s vision of America. Nixon, as usual, has designed the costumes. When many people think of The Great Gatsby they visualise the cream suits and dresses that adorned Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the 1974 movie.
Nixon chose to put Gatsby in a white and a blue suit because that was the look of the time, he says. “He has to be immaculately dressed and has to be better than everyone else around him.
A ballet has to be different to the movie but if people choose to compare them there is nothing I can do. They will see what they want to see.” In any case soon there will be a new movie coming out this year, Baz Luhrmann’s version with Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, which is part of a surge of popularity for the classic American novel which has also seen stage productions in London and Gatsby inspired fashion on the catwalks.
“We are in a time in some ways similar to the Twenties,”, Nixon suggests. “We have seen corruption and the collapse of banking and there’s a similar anarchy in society and it’s celebrity-orientated and the Twenties had this false glamour.
“The story has everything for the makings of a great ballet: a love triangle, decadence, desperation and heartbreak.”
The Great Gatsby is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.