Can’t escape the past? Why of course you can!

The Great Gatsby’s success lies in the dazzling display of metaphor, symbolism and witty repartee Fitzgerald uses to draw the reader into the glitteringly dark world of 1920s America.

Not the best premise for the sGreat Gatsbyilence of the ballet, perhaps?

But Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, Myrtle and Wilson transcend the glitter of Fitzgerald’s language through the strength of their characters. And David Nixon’s Northern Ballet production delivers a stunning performance that propels the audience along Fitzgerald’s plot through the symbolism of ballet, the Charleston, and the tango. That is, the audience who have read the book.

The costumes are wonderful: flapper dresses shimmer under the glittering lights of Leeds Grand, and the set remains as true to the novel as stage space allows. All the symbols are here: Gatsby’s Long Island clapboard house with its sash windows and wicker furniture, yellow in the languid heat of the sun; the white sheets blowing in the breeze as Daisy rests from nothing but herself; the “orgiastic green light” of Gatsby’s past, haunting in its continual presence at the other side of the sound.

Hauntings – and the almost seen – dominate this performance. Gatsby and Daisy dance simultaneously in the past of the First World War and the present of the 1920s, which can be a little confusing at times. It was always going to be difficult to see the whole of what Fitzgerald is trying to say about the self and society through a ballet. The novel itself needs a narrator, Nick, to tell Gatsby’s story after all. In fact, the very purpose of The Great Gatsby is to highlight the lack of reliability in any personal narrative – we all tell a story of half-remembered pasts and embellished presents: Can’t escape the past? Why of course you can!

Travelling from Leeds to Sheffield and ending up at Sadler’s Wells, London, this dance adaptation coincided with Fitzgerald-fervour as the long-awaited Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby film hit the UK.

But for both ballet and the big screen, you can’t beat reading the book first.

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