Ballet classes began when I was seven years old. I loved them. The teacher placed me in the back row where my lack of co-ordination and heaviness of foot wouldn’t distract the star pupils at the front. I was completely unaware of the slur on my talent. As far as I was concerned I was destined to be Pavlova, Markova and Margot Fonteyn rolled into one. In my imagination, I was poised, graceful, lissome and supple. In reality, I wasn’t. Eventually the penny dropped, but in the meantime I was oblivious of my own lack of prowess or mother’s muffled giggles from the parental perch in the back corner.
Occasionally, when I watch a truly glorious ballet, I am still that seven year old on the brink of stardom.
Last night I went to Sadler’s Wells to see the Northern Ballet dance The Great Gatsby. It was sublime. And I, of course, sat in my mythical bubble feeling every bit as ethereal, elegant and diaphanous as those light-as-a-feather, lithe and fragile ballerinas with their pointed toes, pirouettes and effortless arabesques.
If you have ever read the book or seen the movie (with either Robert Redford or Leonardo), you should see the ballet. Choreographer David Nixon captures the mood of the Roaring 20s perfectly: the post-war frivolity, self-indulgence and glamour of the Lost Generation, and that entrancing, seductive, unrealistic American dream of insatiable wealth and success. And of course he also manages to capture, quite brilliantly, the essence of the novel: Gatby’s obsession, not for wealth, but for Daisy Buchanan; of an elusive dream of love and happiness; of the soul-destroying reality of a harsh world. It seems the perfect tale to weave into dance, and the only wonder is that it hasn’t been done before.
The score was written specially for this production by composer and jazz pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE. Completed just before his death in 2012, it follows the story line with effortless style and exciting flashes of jazz, excellently performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia.
Jerome Kaplan’s sets are simple but effective, inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper – perhaps with particular reference to the artist’s ‘window’ sketches and carefully calculated compositions – to create an ephemeral world of lust and fantasy, and enhance the deep sense of human isolation. (Although some rather unfortunate door banging was an unnecessary teaspoon of mundanity to undermine the fairy floss.)
Nixon and his team haves created a gem of a ballet. The Great Gatsby is a complex tale of convoluted relationships, but Nixon unravels the knots so the audience can follow the plot with relative ease. The dancers portray their characters through dance with more three-dimensionality than the actors ever managed, and the costumes, apparently inspired by Chanel, help to depict the loose, liberal, flighty era of the 1920s.
All this, and Sadler’s Wells too!
I read and adored Noel Streatfield’s “Ballet Shoes” as a child, and more pertinently, the Sadler’s Wells series by Lorna Hill. I have long been devoted to the legend of Sadler’s Wells without ever having been, so this was a much anticipated first, and I was bouncing with excitement like a five year old at a birthday party.
Sadler’s Wells is named for both its creator, Richard Sadler, who opened a music house on the Clerkenwell site in 1683, and for the medicinal springs discovered on the site. The current theatre is the sixth on the site since 1683 and it is renowned as one of the world’s leading dance venues.
The first performances of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with its all-male cast of swans – remember Billy Elliott? – took place at Sadler’s Wells in November 1995. Three years later, the latest reincarnation of this national treasure was opened, aided by funding from the National Lottery, and it is reputedly bigger and better than all its predecessors.
Possibly a more informed audience would be more critical, but this little amateur ballet lover was riveted to the stage from beginning to end of an electric adaptation of this iconic tale, and is just oversome with adjectives. I just wish there was some way of boxing it and taking it home to love forever, but it, too, is ephemeral, insubstantial, and impossible to possess. Sadly.
*With thanks to my dear friend Julia for such a very special treat, and to Google Images for access to the pictures.