Last Friday’s rain showers hardly dampened the spirits of the Charleston Ballet Theatre faithful, who showed up for its opening performance of The Great Gatsby.
I wondered how one turns classic American novel into a ballet. But the vision of choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr resulted in a cohesive, nicely flowing dance epic that I bet author F. Scott Fitzgerald would’ve loved.
The music was vintage Gershwin; we heard everything from his best Broadway songs to one of his dreamy piano preludes. And the action matched, in a fascinating portrayal of social climbing, jealousy, and scandal in the Roaring Twenties. With flappers and the like onstage, modern dance technique prevailed — but always on top of a firm classical foundation. A few delightful passages were purely classical in execution.
To help us unravel the complex plot, a dancer-cum-narrator was employed: the gifted Jonathan Tabbert as Nick Carraway. He remained mute as snippets of the novel were piped in, but reflected the narration without music in a sort of balletic pantomime.
He remained mostly a sideline figure, drifting smoothly into the action for some great dancing when his role was called for. His usual female partner was Jennifer Balcerzak Muller, slinky and graceful in the role of Jordan Baker.
The evening’s tragic (and ruthless) hero was Jay Gatsby, and Stephen Gabriel — the company’s ballet master — danced the role to perfection. He excelled at partnering, too, in his protracted moments with Jessica Roan, playing his leading lady Daisy Buchanan.
Roan was terrific, too; all willow and steel — and she made us laugh in her “drunk” scene. Alexander Collen, as Tom Buchanan, her cuckolded husband, projected macho swagger and seething jealousy while delivering powerful dancing.
In lesser roles, Stephanie Bussell was very effective as Myrtle Wilson, the shrewish, unfaithful wife. Her “car crash” scene was spectacular — both for her dancing and its imaginative staging. Roy Wei Meng Gan radiated murderous rage as George, her pathologically jealous husband.
As for the big, busy ensemble scenes, I often had trouble taking in an entire stageful of dancers at once — but no matter where my eye wandered, something interesting and accomplished was going on.
I thought I caught a missed step here and there — but overall, the group work was tight and well-rehearsed. After a triumphant Carmen a mere week before, I’m hooked on the CBT. —Lindsay Koob