April 2009 Issue
All That Jazz
Columbus’ BalletMet brings “The Great Gatsby” to life.
As he celebrates his 14th season with the Columbus dance troupe BalletMet, the choreographer is putting the finishing touches on what he deems to be the most challenging assignment he’s ever received: transforming F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epic Jazz Age novel, The Great Gatsby into a 90-minute ballet.
Published in 1925, the story was lauded by critics as epitomizing the decade in which it was penned: It’s the tragic tale of a self-made millionaire who learns too late that money can’t buy happiness as he pursues the woman of his dreams.
And, like decades of high school students before him, Orrante’s initial encounter with the book was as 10th-grade required reading.
“Back then,” he confesses, “I really didn’t get the story. I kept thinking, ‘What is wrong with this guy?’”
Two decades later, however, Fitzgerald’s meaning is unmistakable. Far from dated, Orrante explains, “The Great Gatsby” mirrors aspects of today’s overindulgent society.
“Many people still free-spend and don’t care how they behave,” he says. “They are the ones who think they have what they need, but really don’t.”
While conferring with BalletMet artistic director Gerard Charles about costumes and props, Orrante reiterates his commitment to stay true to the story — albeit with a tweak or two, especially when it comes to the climactic scene in which Gatsby meets his fate in a sumptuous backyard swimming pool.
“Now obviously we need to work around that, since an inflatable pool just won’t do,” says Orrante with a smile. “But just as actors express dialogue, we’ll work together to interpret Fitzgerald’s words as movement. “Whether it’s a pas de deux or The Charleston, there’s feeling in dance.”
Ohio State University English professor Erin McGraw, agrees.
“The Great Gatsby lends itself beautifully to spectacular arts like ballet,” reflects McGraw, who teaches writing and college lit. “The book has a very simple plot, but contains very big emotions. It’s a love story tailor-made for dancers to express.”
Much like movie producer David O. Selznick must have felt making “Gone With the Wind,” in 1939, after Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War novel wowed readers and won a Pulitzer Prize, so, too, is Orrante eagerly awaiting his audience’s reaction.
“My main goal is to do justice to the novel,” he says, “and to tell a clear story that everyone can appreciate.”