Left – Matthew Lehmann and Melissa Boniface. Cover – Matthew Edwardson and Dancers of West Australian Ballet. Photos – Sergey Pevnev
Flappers dressed in pearls, diamonds and feathers swanned their way around His Majesty’s Theatre for the opening night of WA Ballet’s The Great Gatsby, which transported the audience to Long Island, New York in the roaring twenties.
Northern Ballet’s David Nixon adapted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel to ballet in 2013 (coincidentally, the same year Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was released) and it features music by Academy Award nominated and BAFTA winning composer Richard Rodney Bennett, played live by the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.
For those who have yet to read the novel or see the film, The Great Gatsby is a tale of passion, disillusionment and corruption in a post-war age of excess and idealism. Nick Carraway comes to know his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby – a mysterious millionaire who loves to throws lavish parties and has an obsession for past love Daisy Buchanan, now married to the cheating Tom Buchanan.
David Nixon had the challenge of setting to ballet a novel full of poetic language. He didn’t manage to cover all the complexities of the plot and there were subtleties that would have been impossible to transfer, but he did a commendable job of telling the bulk of the story and conveying the mood of the novel through dance.
Staging and lighting were used masterfully by the capable hands of Jerome Kaplan and Tim Mitchell respectively, with swiftly moving backdrops that were clever and visually appealing. Costumes were sumptuous – Chichiro Nomura as Daisy seemed to float like a beautiful feather in her layered white dress, as she was thrown between Carraway and Gatsby.
Nixon used dream-like flashbacks to show how Gatsby and Daisy met during the war, scenes he returned to throughout the performance. This also served to hint at the not-so-virtuous paths Gatsby took to make his fortune. As one of the central characters, Jay Gatsby was a little under-developed, and I’m not sure about the choice of Gakuro Matsui for the lead here, because despite his immaculate performance, he didn’t show much expression and seemed a little detached.
Matthew Lehmann as Tom Buchanan gave, as usual, a stand out performance, depicting the despicable character of Tom with macho aggression and arrogance. Melissa Boniface was also excellent as the raunchy Myrtle Wilson.
Party scenes were playful and lavish, with rose gold drop-waisted frocks and black coattails flapping in unison and everyone dancing and drinking to excess. Nixon’s choreography aptly captured the swinging twenties style and tempo and was an absolute delight to watch.
WA Ballet’s Artistic Director Aurelien Scannella, now in his fourth season at the company, has worked hard to raise the profile of WA Ballet, locally, nationally and internationally. He chooses a mix of traditional, classical and more modern pieces for each season but has admitted in the past that it can be hard to sell tickets when it’s not a well-known story ballet such as The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. This is the second time he’s chosen a David Nixon adaptation and I think he made a wise choice here – this is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and a highlight of this year’s ballet season, captivating and dazzling in its stylish adaptation of a literary classic.
West Australian Ballet presents
THE GREAT GATSBY
with West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Choreographer David Nixon OBE
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth WA
Dates: 14 – 30 September 2017
Tickets: $120 – $22