Even though it’s early in the year, this production is sure to be called the best show of 2013, maybe even the best of the decade.
As the house lights were brought down, the live jazz band played "That's a Plenty."
Nick the narrator and vocalist (Connor Mickelwicz) with suitcase in hand began to tell the story against the backdrop of Gatsby's mansion - off in the distance, a faint green light appears.
Jay Gatsby (Stefan Calka) gazes at the green light across the bay where Daisy (Alexandra Cunningham) and Tom Buchanan’s (Christopher Nachtrab) home is in East Egg.
To music composed and arranged by Billy Novick and performed by Billy Novick’s Blue Syncopators, Calka begins to dance.
Calka’s solo dance, an amazing interpretation of both the song.“What’ll I Do,” and Gatsby’s feeling of emptiness, set the stage for the remainder of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story to be told - a story of romance that ultimately ends in tragedy.
At the end of Calka's moving solo, Nick the narrator reappeared with suitcase still in hand and continued the story. Moments later, Nick the dancer (Oliver-Paul Adams) mades his entrance. Both dressed the same, both with suitcase in hand.
Nick the dancer shadowed Nick the narrator mimicking his every move until Nick the narrator exited the stage. The use of the two Nicks is just one example of the creative genius of this production.
Adams was light-footed and bright-eyed as he moved about the stage with two props, a suitcase and an umbrella, that were as if extensions of his body – not awkward, not cumbersome.
Scene 2 introduced four of the remaining five principal dancers. Daisy (Alexandra Cunningham) and Jordan (Isha Lloyd) lounged about on a couch at center stage sipping cocktails in summer dresses.
Lloyd gracefully bounded up from the couch with a golf club in hand into a solo dance that highlighted her beauty, and talent. Her appearance was smooth like the ripples on a pond as she twirled with poise and grace, her blue knee length dress flowing with every movement; she was mesmerizing.
Cunningham rose in her white dress to the outstretched hand of Lloyd and the two moved in sync until Cunningham broke for a brief solo performed with absolute grace; then the pair settled back on the couch.
Chris Nachtrab, a native of Long Island, NY, was cast as Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan. Nachtrab’s entrance and subsequent performance was all Buchanan - Lively, a player, and outspoken; Nachtrab interpreted the character just as Fitzgerald had penned him.
There is a phone call for Buchanan. It’s Myrtle (Amanda Peet), Buchanan’s mistress. Myrtle wants to live the high life and in her current situation, this is the only way – through an affair with Buchanan.
And an affair it was – a scandalous one as Nachtrab and Peet faced each other and moved into a coupling of their bodies with a dance that would make Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze’s “dirty dancing” look tame. Their performance was so erotic, eliciting excitement and uneasiness at the same time, and it was spectacular!
In Scene 3, George Wilson (Michael Separovich), Myrtle’s husband, a hardworking man, was at his gas station. Again, the brilliance of Ron Cunningham was shown as he used male dancers in the background to illustrate the life of Wilson, the faithful husband doing everything he can to provide for his wife. And the interpretation of Myrtle’s relationship with her husband and her desire for more was well executed by Peet's combination of ballet and burlesque dance moves.
The party scenes at the Gatsby Mansion were just that, parties – elegant, lively, upbeat, and made an excellent backdrop for Nick the narrator to wow the crowd with his vocals. The men in their white dinner jackets and the ladies, each in their own unique brightly-colored, sparkling flapper style dress, moved about the stage with a great sense of rhythm. In the midst of the party scene, Gatsby and Daisy managed to steal away for a romantic moment.
Vocalist E. Faye Butler's voice and style at the Gatsby parties were in character with the period reminiscent of the great jazz singers, adding to the festivities, and she literally wowed the audience
The hustle and bustle of New York City was depicted superbly as additional dancers were incorporated moving from left to right and right to left across the stage. The costumed characters included a police officer chasing a couple of masked bandits, a rabbi, a nun followed by several school children, a woman pushing a baby carriage with toddlers in tow and a myriad of others.
The scene in the Plaza Hotel was set to a Latin rhythm, “Broadway Tango at the Plaza.” Gatsby and Buchanan (Calka and Nachtrab) squared off like a bull and a matador – there was jealousy, passion, and alcohol – a dangerous mixture. They moved closer, each invading the other’s space; they moved with both grace and ferocity.
They stepped back, Buchanan glanced at Daisy and tried to draw Daisy back to him by inciting jealousy. Buchanan turned to Jordan, Daisy’s best friend, and with the sweep of one arm, Nachtrab lifted Jordan (Lloyd) effortlessly from her chair as Lloyd moved into an Arabesque position.
Buchanan and Jordon were simply friends, Buchanan, the player, and Jordan, Daisy’s best friend, the beautiful golf pro that every guy longs to be with – but there was a moment, a fleeting moment, when Jordan was in Buchanan’s arms, both executing, accomplishing a feeling through the dance – and if that moment could be frozen in time like a single frame of a motion picture, it would be a portrait displaying the essence of all the emotions of “The Great Gatsby.” Loyalty, disloyalty, romance, jealousy, deception, and loneliness.
As they left the hotel, the first of the tragedies occurred. Back at the gas station, Myrtle was struck by a passing car – Gatsby’s car. George Wilson huddled over the love of his life as she lay dead on the ground.
As the show nears the end, Gatsby is out by his pool ready to take a swim in the new light of morning. Out of the shadows Wilson appears. He has a gun. He raises it and fires one shot -Gatsby begins to fall, the second tragedy.
Wilson backs away into the shadows, and the show doesn’t end with two tragedies. Wilson places the pistol barrel in his own mouth as he disappears offstage.
Gatsby (Calka) remains on stage; his body begins to crumble, and the climatic ending is purposefully and beautifully depicted by the dramatic lighting as it’s cast on Calka’s sculpted body as he slowly falls to the ground – the melody “What’ll I Do” plays.
Nick the narrator closes with an epitaph about Gatsby’s hope. The stage fades to black.
Artistic directors Ron Cunningham, celebrating his 25th year the Sacramento Ballet, and his wife, Carrine Binda, once again have brought uniquity to the Ballet, a great asset to Sacramento’s performing art community.
Cunningham is an artistic genius, and his choreography is perfected by the technical abilities, unique styles, and artistry of each of the Sacramento Ballet’s dancers.
Add the costume, scenery, and lighting design, and of course, the music, and you have a grand production.
The opening night performance simply put – spectacular – 5 star – a must see!
Three more performances of the fabulous production “The Great Gatsby” will be at the Sacramento Community Center Theater – Feb. 8, and Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m.. and Feb. 10, a matinee at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased on the Sacramento Ballet’s website.
Also, after the Feb. 10 performance, the Sacramento Ballet is throwing a “Prohibition Party.’ Billed as the best party and the biggest fundraiser of the year, the event will be held at the Memorial Auditorium. Get your tickets here and support the Sacramento Ballet.
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