When you read the programme synopsis for David Nixon's ballet based on F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, your first thought has to be "this is an incredibly complicated story". Your second will probably be "why, of all the novels which rely on the precision use of words, make this one into a classical dance drama?" Then the music – selected from an eclectic range of the late Richard Rodney Bennett's compositions – begins, the curtain rises, and none of this really seems to matter any more.

Dixon's choreography gives both the principals and the corps de ballet opportunities to show off, whether in variations on the social dances of the 1920s – look out for the charleston, the bunny hug and the tango – or in more lyrical moments. These are principally the preserve of the young Daisy (Michela Paolacci) as she swirls gracefully across the stage with her war-destined beloved Gatsby (Jeremy Curnier). Their steps for their several pas de deux are firmly in the romantic Ashton idiom.

When it comes to their older emanations, (Martha Leebolt) as Daisy (now Mrs Buchanan) and Tobias Batley as the wealthy sybarite Gatsby) with their friends and lovers are given steps which – particularly in the jumps and lifts – are far more forceful, even jagged. There are odd little syncopated scissor kicks which remind you that this was an era where design favoured the asymmetrical and when life could be forceful, not to say ruthless.

Jérôme Kaplan is the designer for the simple but atmospheric sets with Tim Mitchell's lighting contributing to the sense of time and place. The mirror sequence which opens the second act where reflexions deform into something akin to the work of de Chirico or Dali is particularly effective. Throughout, period detail is never allowed to confine or cramp the dancers' space.

This is a company of dancers who can also act, so that the divided personalities of Gatsby himself, jealous George (Benjamin Mitchell), unfaithful Myrtle (Victoria Sibson) and Tom (Kenneth Tindall) as well as the slightly-detached Nick (Giuliano Contadini) and Jordan (Hannah Bateman) are all made clear. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by John Pryce-Jones and reminded us of what an enjoyable composer Rodney Bennett had been, and still is.