It was poignant watching The Great Gatsby the day that Vicky Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. This was a tragedy that Scott Fitzgerland might well have written: the precipitate end of two stellar careers, marital infidelity, passion, revenge, even a motor car driven far too fast - happily no deaths but public disgrace which for many is as bad as death if not worse.
I had an inkling that this would be something special before the show. There was Ballet News's report of the London preview on the 20 and 21 Feb, a glowing report from someone - herself a dancer - who had seen parts of the show and these words of the lady who sold me my programme: "My high point was Cleopatra but this has exceeded it." I was not disappointed. Gatsby is in my very humble opinion David Nixon's best work so far and arguably the company's.
The plot of The Great Gatsby is well known. Those who have not read the novel are likely to have seen the film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow which Nixon refers to in his foreword to the programme:
"This beautifully written novel first captured my imagination when I was at high school. It was coincidentally the same year the movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow premièred and I fell in love with this mysterious man, his unrelenting passion and obsession with re-capturing his one true love."
The ballet sticks pretty closely to the story which results in 16 scenes from opulent Long Island holiday homes to a petrol station just outside New York City. Those scene changes were accomplished effectively by Jerome Kaplan. This being a touring company his backdrops were necessarily economical and some almost symbolic; but time and place were evoked by the costumes which were sumptuous.
The Great Gatsby was set in the jazz age and that required at least some jazz in the score. An art form that began life in the formality of the 17th century French court does not always sit easily with a style of music that sprang from improvisation and syncopation. Jazz Calendar, one of the first ballets I ever saw and still one of my favourites, married the two effortlessly. The composer of the score for that ballet was Richard Rodney Bennett - then a 32 year old in the early years of a brilliant career whose work Ashton interpreted brilliantly - and it was the same Bennett whose music we heared last night - sadly, as Bennett died last year. There were bits of Jazz Calendar, namely Friday's Child and Wednesday's Child, in the score this evening. There was other music - symphonic, tango and a brilliant percussion sequence representing the conflict in Daisy's head between Gatsby and Buchanan - blended seamlessly with the popular music of the time.
Gatsby lost Daisy when he went to war. Nixon conjured flashback by a young Gatsby and Daisy danced tonight by Michela Paolacci and Jeremy Curnier - and sinister looking men in black hats and overcoats to represent Gatsby's unsavoury past. He introduced the main characters in a prologue - Nick Carraway danced by Giuliano Contadini, Sporty Jordan - Hannah Bateman - Myrtle Wilson (Victoria Sibson) who oozed sex almost to the point of eroticism in a pas de deux with Tom Buchanan (Kenneth Tindall) after he had struck her in public and her hapless husband George (Benjamin Mitchell) and of course Daisy Buchanan (Martha Leebolt) and Gatsby (Tobias Batley).
There is one juvenile role in this ballet, Pammy Buchanan who makes three separate entrances which is quite a lot for a 7 year old. Tonight it was danced by Caitlin Noonan whom I had previously seen in Ondine last autumn and as one of the mice in The Nutcracker before Christmas. Francis Xavier is reputed to have said "Give me a boy at 7 and I will show you the man." I don't know whether it is true and it is true whether it works for girls - and one doesn't want to tempt fate - but what can be said with certainty is that this girl has presence. Also, she loves her art; and I have that on the best possible authority. Just possibly we have seen a star in the making.
This ballet has been shown first in Leeds and will move on to Sheffield, Edinburgh, Hull, Belfast, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Norwich and London between now and May. If you live anywhere near those cities or even if you don't it is as they say of the top restaurants in the Guide Rouge "vaut le voyage" - beaucoup fois. Now at last I can take to my bed.