A delightful story ballet that takes us back to the glamorous and glamorous Roaring 20s. It was choreographed by Sacramento Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus Ron Cunningham, who over the years has composed 60 ballets for the international stage. In 1913, his “Gatsby” had its world premiere in Sacramento to commemorate his 25th anniversary in Sacramento.
The production that captivated Dayton audiences in 2017 returns to the Victorian stage over the weekend of April 8-10. In addition to great dancing, it also features recorded music by local blues singers Felita LaRock, Billy Novick and Blue Syncopators, colorful costumes and narration that tells great stories. The full professional company of Dayton Ballet will perform as well as dancers from Dayton Ballet II and Dayton Ballet School.
Cunningham has said he chose “The Great Gatsby” as his dance for several reasons. “First of all, it’s a good story that’s considered a great American novel,” he explained when he originally came to town to set the ballet for three weeks. “Even those who haven’t read the book are often familiar with it. Storytelling in dance is much easier if the audience walks into the theater already with an understanding of the plot and characters. How many people read Ever Romeo and Juliet? But everyone knows what to expect.”
The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel and his most famous novel. This is the story of the very rich Jay Gatsby, his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan and their lavish party on Long Island, New York.
The plot revolves around Midwestern native and would-be writer Nick Callaway, who comes to New York City in search of the American Dream and moves to Gatsby next door. “These characters are not good people,” Cunningham said. “Daisy was superficial and ditched Gatsby to marry a rich man. To win her back, Gatsby became a pirate dealer. Daisy’s husband Tom was a misogynist, cruel and prejudiced. “
As we all know, the story is autobiographical. “Because Fitzgerald was a Midwestern boy, he was probably from Dayton, Ohio,” Cunningham said. “He hangs out with these senior rich people. At first, Nick admires them. When he sees them for what they really are, that admiration wears off.”
tell a story
Playing Nick Callaway is actor Jamie Cordes, a veteran of the Human Theatre Company and a senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Film at Wright State University. Cordes appeared in the Dayton Ballet’s original production, “Gatsby,” and is a singing teacher in the Wright State University Professional Performance Training Program, providing vocal training to students in musical theatre, acting, dance, and theatre studies .
The ballet’s narration, as narrated by Nick Callaway’s character, comes straight from the books. “The storytelling in this production is the perfect combination of dance, narration and music/song,” Cordes said. “I think I would describe Nick as a wise observer who uses passages from the book to guide the story and then passes the baton to the dancers. While much of the story is told through dance, the narration provides another elements to enhance the dancers’ beautiful compositions. In the early days of ballet, narrator Nick and dancer Nick switched places to establish the conventions of the work.”
Cordes wanted Gatsby audiences to be transported into the 1920s and enjoy the work’s storytelling and carefully crafted high-caliber dancing. “This is the perfect opportunity to escape to another time and place,” he concluded. “It’s been a lovely collaboration of local talent and organization.”
Appropriate clothing can go a long way in helping the performer fit into the character. In the case of The Great Gatsby, that meant ’20s clothing—from fringed dresses to top hats.
When the ballet debuted in Dayton in 2017, Dayton Ballet costume director Lyn Baudendistel faced a dilemma. Initial plans to rent outfits fell through, and she was challenged to design 100 outfits for the show.
“Because choreographer Ron Cunmningham wanted the costumes to look like costumes made in the past, I watched that video several times, and then we started doing most of the heroine’s costumes and some menswear,” she explained. “Because this ballet has a lot of streetwear, I was able to match suits and pants for most of the men and some kids in the New York City scene.”
She borrowed some costumes from Wright State and some from Muse Machine. “Price Stores rented us the white tuxedo jackets for a very low price, which are now donated to the Dayton Ballet for future shows,” explains Baudendistel.
The dancers in The Great Gatsby each wore three to six costumes. “There’s a lot of incredible rapid change in this show,” Baudendistel said, adding that she’s never had any other show come close. Traditionally, she hired three wardrobe assistants for “The Nutcracker,” but four for “Gatsby,” as more than 50 rapid changes happened backstage.
“I put together a four-page spreadsheet of scenarios, noting who made rapid changes between each scene and how much time each specific rapid change took,” she explained. “The dancers have to be very fit to go from scene to scene like they do on this show.”
According to Cunningham, the challenge of story ballet is to tell the story clearly and to tell the story. “The art of storytelling in dance can be quite tricky,” he noted. “There are a lot of great choreographers in America, but not many people who can tell a good story. You can’t tell every detail. It’s important to get to the heart of the story.
“When the woman who dragged her husband to the ballet later left, I hope they both found it funny and understandable.”
how to get to:
what: “The Great Gatsby” presented by Dayton Ballet and choreographed by Ron Cunningham
when: Friday April 8th and Saturday April 9th at 7:30pm and Sunday April 10th at 2:30pm.
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main Street, Dayton
Tickets: $5 – $86. Available for purchase at (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org. Premium, teacher and student discounts available. For more information, visit www.daytonperformingarts.org.
RELATED SHOW: Q&A with Dayton Ballet dancers, plus blues singer Felicity Tara Locke and actor Jamie CordesWill follow every performance.