Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon knew he was making a tough choice when he decided to adapt The Great Gatsby.
He said: “It’s one of the stories I’ve always had in mind as a possible title. I’ve been hesitant because it’s not the easiest of pieces. With all the parties and the glamour of the 1920s it sounds great to do as dance, but the matter of it is not easy to dance.
“We gave ourselves some freedom with taking the story where it didn’t go: we work with the information you’re given in the book.”
F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic character, Jay Gatsby, is deliberately elusive about his gangster past and David found it tricky to convey his obsession with the rich Daisy Buchanan without the aid of the author’s narrator, Nick Carraway, to tell the story.
David said of Daisy: “It’s seen more from her perspective. He comes back into her life. she is disillusioned and unhappy in a marriage. He just provides a distraction.
“Gatsby is in love with that woman from his past. He wants to take that woman from the present and take her back to the past. The vision of her that he has in his head is that he still sees that 17-year-old girl, not the woman with a child and husband.”
He decided to expand the relationships in the love triangle between Daisy’s husband Tom, his mistress Myrtle Wilson and her husband, garage owner George.
“I really built up Myrtle and Wilson. I really like these two characters so I expanded their roles, for instance the scenes when Wilson tries to get some affection from his wife, when he tells her she’s packing up and they’re leaving – his sadness and her fear.
“We also get a lot of her in the first act – why Tom likes her. With Tom and Myrtle, we see a different side of Tom. He has emotions and feelings and she is a woman who can hold her own with him. She’s a woman he can hit and yell at and she gives him as much back. With Myrtle he can actually be who he is.”
David works consistently with dancers in his company like Martha Leebolt, who plays Daisy. “The dancers understand me. It’s been new territory for everybody – it’s really exciting with muses and people you work with a lot.”
The director admitted he wasn’t very popular with his dancers when he created a Charleston scene in a party that goes on for eight minutes. The team also worked with a ballroom dancer on the moves for a tango scene in the second act. Naturally the 1970s film version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was in his head; “I love the film and first knew it when I was 17. I watched it recently. I need to put the film aside, it’s not of today. I don’t lose the look of Mia Farrow and Robert Redford stays in your head.”
He is already working on his next production, Cinderella. “It’s one I’ve always wanted to do. Now we’ve got a closet worth of Christmas ballets, which is very good to have.”
The Great Gatsby is at the Lyceum, Sheffield until this Saturday (March 16).