Curtain Call: "The Great Gatsby"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of infidelity and carelessness, does not scream out for translation into choreography. It rarely raises its voice at all, in fact, leaving much unspoken. Its climactic moment is a car accident - not an event with obvious dance potential.

True enough, though its mysterious title character lives to regain his idealized lost love, a motivation that has powered any number of story ballets.

Thus, choreographer Jimmy Orrante took on an ambitious project as his first full-length work for BalletMet Columbus, the company he's danced with for 14 seasons now.

That The Great Gatsby succeeds as much as it does is commendable. Orrante has taken full advantage of the dances associated with the Roaring Twenties, including the Charleston and the Lindy Hop, particularly for the energetic large ensembles.

Likewise, costume designer Rebecca Baygents Turk uses the emblematic styles of the time to create a rich and varied palette. The set of Peter Farmer and the lighting of Dennis Dugan work with the costumes to suggest opulence with relatively modest means - lights strung over Gatsby's extravagant parties - leaving the rest to be supplied by the ritzy dancers.

And considering the symbolic import of the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock across the expanse of Long Island Sound, the attention given to the gentle lapping of the waves is a nice touch.

To tell the story of The Great Gatsby, Orrante has flipped foreground and background. The dance passages one remembers here are Orrante's terrific ensembles. Those, however, are the same parties that Gatsby himself "dismissed ... with a snap of his fingers. 'Old sport, the dance is unimportant.'"

Relegated to the background is a good deal of the actual story, even though Orrante often conveys important points with an admirable deftness and an economy of movement. When Tom Buchanan takes a phone call from his mistress, Myrtle, Daisy's harrumphing reaction clearly reflects both her awareness and her disapproval.

In what is probably the best scene in the ballet, the main characters perform a constantly changing cycle of pairings. Lit in stark white circles from overhead, they portray the rises and falls of various relationships, all danced to a slow rag.

As we expect from BalletMet, the dancing, with two alternating casts, is top-rate. Duets between Daisy and Gatsby seem to emphasize partnering where she is facing away from him, making concrete her unattainability. If, as narrator Nick Carraway says, "personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures," this one speaks volumes.

"The Great Gatsby"

Where: Riffe Center Capitol Theatre, Downtown

When: Through May 2