Charleston Ballet Theatre to give movement to 1925 novel

By Dottie Ashley
The Post and Courier
Sunday, October 5, 2008









It’s that green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock that is a metaphor for the fantasy so unattainable to most — an existence imbued with wealth, beauty and nonstop pleasure. The striving, and nearly attaining, of that dream is at the heart of “The Great Gatsby,” the famous 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which some believe to be the most perfect creation in American literature.

But “The Great Gatsby” as a ballet?

In 2002, Charleston Ballet Theatre resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr decided to transfer her favorite novel into movement, perhaps because, like the characters in the novel, she is a Midwesterner who followed her dream to the East Coast, first to New York City and then Charleston. “‘The Great Gatsby’ has permanently entrenched itself in our nation’s history and mythology,” Bahr says of the tragic story of self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby. Bahr has chosen passages directly from the novel to take the audience down the spiraling path of Gatsby, which involves greed, ambition, obsession and desire.

“This epic story about the rise and fall of Gatsby and his deep love for socialite Daisy, whom he once thought he had the chance to marry, touched a nerve in the American psyche,” explains Bahr. “The story remains as relevant today as it did when the book made its debut nearly 85 years ago.”She adds, “While ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a highly specific portrait of American society during the Roaring ’20s, its basic story has been related in various forms hundreds of times in various ways through the decades.”

Bahr notes the ballet follows a cautionary tale as to the dangers of excess and the quest for the elusive American Dream. It is interesting that it precedes the stock market crash of 1929, which is so relevant to what is happening today. In fashioning the ballet, Bahr has taken these themes and transformed them into elaborate choreography mixed with precise explanations of the back story of the action.

“The Great Gatsby” is told from the point of view of Yale University-educated Nick Carraway, fresh out of school and newly a bond salesman in New York. For the summer, he is renting a cottage that adjoins Gatsby’s lavish estate. Despite being exceptionally grounded, young Carraway is entranced by Gatsby’s elaborate parties, where the Charleston and the Lindy Hop take center stage.

Daisy and Gatsby were lovers many years before, and Gatsby wants to resume their affair, using Carraway as a way to reach his goal. Daisy is Carraway’s second cousin once removed and invites him to her home. Although Carraway is not wealthy, he is from a patrician family, a reference to Fitzgerald’s obsessive knowledge of the incredible depths of class division in this country and the importance of the “correct connections.”

In Bahr’s terpsichorean creation, most recently performed here in 2006, dancing the pivotal role of Gatsby will be CBT ballet master Stephen Gabriel, with Jessica Roan as Daisy and Jonathan Tabbert as Carraway.

Alexander Collen will portray Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s wealthy but crude husband, and Jennifer Balcerzak Muller will appear as Jordan Baker, a female golf pro and the prototype of the modern, sophisticated woman of the 1920s. Ray Wei Meng Gan and Stephanie Bussell will portray the poor, hapless garage wner and his miserable straying wife, Myrtle, respectively.

In celebration of the opening night, Nancy Koltes at Home, 438 King St., will play host to “The White Party,” an homage to the diaphanous dress worn by Daisy on the story’s hot summer Sunday of tragedy. Ticketholders for Friday night’s performance only are invited to the 6 p.m. cocktail party, to which guests are encouraged to wear white in any form.


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