REVIEW: Ballet Spartanburg Mines the Jazz Age in Gorgeous ‘Gatsby’

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Grayson Driver and Will Scott in “The Great Gatsby.”

BY SANDY STAGGS
ARTS CRITIC

Prohibition, jazz and decadence defined the Roaring Twenties. And no work of American literature encapsulates this decade more than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Now, Ballet Spartanburg closes its season with the much-anticipated original ballet conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director Carlos Agudelo.

In case it’s been a while since you’ve read the Great American Novel, the plot is set in the fictional West and East Egg on Long Island in 1922 and revolves around the myriad wealthy lovers: particularly the titular millionaire Jay Gatsby (danced with gravitas by Will Scott) and former debutante Daisy Buchanan (Nichola Montt at the Friday performance and Grayson Driver on Saturday), married to Tom (Brenton Taft).

Tom also has a mistress, Analay Saiz in a marvelous and sassy performance as Myrtle, wife of working class gas station owner, George Wilson (a dynamic and rugged Gavin Stewart).

This ballet also features Carrie Petrak as Jordan and Isaac Martinez Lozada as the narrator Nick (modeled after Fitzgerald himself), whose role as an observer and commentator is downplayed here. Thus, Agudelo is prevented from expressing some of the overarching themes such as disillusionment with the American Dream after the Great War.

Brenton Taft and Grayson Driver in “The Great Gatsby.”

Yet, he beautifully captures the romantic aspects of the story: the conflicts, the triangles, and the excess and carefree lifestyle of the upper echelons of 1920s society well – very well indeed.

Forgoing the company’s customary use of rented backdrops, the setting is bolstered by eye-popping high-definition video projections of locations such as the Plaza Hotel and Gatsby’s opulent mansion, making the scenery another character in the ballet.

The decadence of the era is demonstrated frankly and in short order from the opening scene, as Daisy and Jordan, then followed by Tom and Nick, swill cocktails and dance the Charleston and sweeping ballet steps without a care in the world.

Choreographed to a score of oldies like Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” and “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”, as well as high-octane jazz, rag-infused jazz, and blues, the party scenes  in “The Great Gatsby,” (and they are numerous) provide fodder for many of the period dances including lots of Charleston steps, the Lindy Hop and even the Tango.

Analay Saiz and Gavin Stewart in “The Great Gatsby.”

But it’s the ballet sequences that are steeped in emotion and passion, particularly a seductive pas de deux by Taft and Saiz that ends with their bodies intertwined and rolling together on the stage as a single entity.

Agudelo also brings to life the seedier angle of the plot exposing Gatsby’s true source of wealth: bootlegging, and a finely-orchestrated fight scene between Gatsby and Tom, as they battle for Daisy’s affection.

But the most powerful scene is the conclusion. And if you don’t remember the ending, I will not spoil it here. The climax is stunning and profusely realistic.

In addition, Agudelo and videographer  George Nnidium have a special treat for Ballet Spartanburg patrons with vintage black and white footage interspersed with almost matching video of Scott as Gatsby in the Air Force in World War I.

Also dancing in this ballet are Charlie Carrouth, guest artist Gavin Stewart, Dominique Guerra, young Claire Grogan as Little Daisy, Maria Cochran, Tommy Dennis, Logan Evans, Aurelia Fendley, Emily Hodge, Caroline Manke, John Roche, Elizabeth Skinner, and Luke Umphett.

The costumes designed by Elizabeth Flagg are exquisite with flapper dresses for the ladies and billowy numbers for Daisy along with a pair of knockout knee-length fur coats near the end. For the gentlemen, Flagg dresses them primarily in street clothes: dapper suits with vests.

Also contributing on this production are Lighting designer Patrick Mero, photographer Bart Noschese, Production Manager Peter Lamson, Production Assistant Bethany Lancaster and hair stylist Becky Evans.

Lona Gomez is Ballet Master for the company and Maxine Moehlenbrock and Melissa Kimbrell constructed the costumes.

Don’t miss this gorgeous original ballet that has sold out the first show and is near-capacity for Saturday.

“The Great Gatsby” runs Friday and Saturday, April 20-21 at 8 p.m. at the Chapman Cultural Center, 200 East St. John Street in Spartanburg. Visit http://www.chapmanculturalcenter.org for tickets.

 

 

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