Sauce and sass

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby and Who Cares?, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $17-$70. Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L Street; Through February 10.

Sacramento Community Center Theater

1301 L St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 808-5291

Rated 5.0

Great is an excellent word to describe the Sacramento Ballet’s new story ballet The Great Gatsby. But it’s not the only appropriate adjective.

Brilliant. Magnificent. Genius. They all apply.

Choreographer Ron Cunningham, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary as co-artistic director of the company (with wife Carinne Binda), challenged himself to turn F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel of love, sex, alcohol and excess into dance.

Here, Cunningham integrates dance, narration, innovative casting and staging with live Jazz Age music (by Billy Novick’s Blue Syncopators and vocalist E. Faye Butler, who adds sauce and sass) into a stunning recreation of the Roaring ’20s era.

One of Cunningham’s most successful choices was to double-cast the role of Nick Carraway. Carraway is the narrator of the novel as well as a participant in its action. Cunningham places dancer Oliver-Paul Adams as the participant and actor Connor Mickiewicz as narrator and vocalist. To establish the “two as one” conceit, Cunningham dresses the men identically in their first appearance together onstage.

To ground the choreography, Cunningham said in a recent interview, “You start, obviously, with the Charleston, and see where it takes you.”

This approach takes him into dramatic classical ballet and into a George Balanchine-inspired realm of tightly knit large-ensemble set pieces and elegant duets that seem to grow organically from the music—songs by Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy and Tommy Dorsey, among others, have been compiled, composed and arranged by Novick and performed with authenticity by the musicians.

Stefan Calka’s Jay Gatsby is introduced by the lovelorn “What’ll I Do,” a song of longing that will become his theme throughout his life onstage. Gatsby becomes infatuated—obsessed, perhaps—with the girl he once let get away, the now-married Daisy Buchanan (the seductive Alexandra Cunningham).

Daisy is a complex character, a woman torn between her abusive, philandering husband Tom (Christopher Nachtrab) and the desirable Gatsby, rich, handsome and a guy with nothing but love in his eyes when she’s around. Daisy, however, is not above playing the two men against each other for her pleasure or advancement.

Choreographer Cunningham creates some of his most dramatic dancing for Nachtraub’s Tom Buchanan. Dance maker and dancer collaborate on the characterization that establishes Tom as a vicious, hard-drinking womanizer. They may have gone too far in one particularly violent scene, but its effect cannot be denied.

Other outstanding performances are delivered by Isha Lloyd as Jordan Baker, Daisy and Tom’s pro-golfer friend; and Michael Separovich as George Wilson, whose wife Myrtle (the amazing Amanda Peet) is Tom’s mistress.

The finale, gray and bleak, is a tragic end to Gatsby’s story and a presage of the dark times that will follow those raucous Roaring ’20s.

The show opens with the Balanchine classic Who Cares?—the perfect pairing to Gatsby” Set to 1920s Broadway music by George Gershwin, the dance is a gala celebration of that exciting, optimistic era with exuberant ensemble dances, touching solos (Ava Chatterson’s “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” for example) and tender duets.