The Creation of Gatsby- The Choreographer

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Sitting Pretty with the Big Cheese!—an Interview with the Artistic Director Colleen Smith

By Rebekah Levin


Stab me with an olive and call me a martini! Haven’t you heard?? Ballet Palm Beach is… at this VERY MOMENT… bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic to life in glorious dance form! …No, not “This Side of Paradise”… *sigh*… no, not “Babylon Revisited” (do pipe down, you literary show-off) It’s “The Great Gatsby”!! And, His Greatness is making appearances March 19 and 20.

You’ve just galloped to the calendar to circle those dates in bold red, ordered your tickets (very important), and telephoned every friend, acquaintance, and friend-that-isn’t-quite-a-friend-but-you-know-too-well-to-consider-an-acquaintance to proclaim, ‘Gatsby’ is coming to town! Dust off those glad rags and join me! Out of breath and wondering what else to do with this excitement I’ve just unceremoniously dumped upon you? …and confused as to how I know all that?… (Omniscient might be the word you’re looking for).

Well, as ballet performances don’t follow the principles of spontaneous generation (much to the chagrin of artistic directors), it takes months of planning, coordinating, and rehearsing. Haven’t you always wished for a glimpse into realm of ballet-creation: the choreography process, the costumes, the dancers… the blood, sweat, and tears? (Nod that head north to south, of course you have!) Excepting the aforementioned bodily fluids, your wish is granted! For the next several weeks until the premiere of “Gatsby,” get a special “eyes-on-the-wall” perspective here by seeing behind-the-scenes!

And speaking of behind-the-scenes… here is the Big Cheese, herself, Colleen Smith, artistic director and choreographer of “Gatsby”!! *applause*

Let’s pick her choreographic brain!!

—So, why choose The Great Gatsby story in particular?

Colleen Smith – It’s an iconic American novel, and currently there’s been a growing fascination with the 1920’s era. “Gatsby,” over the years, has become synonymous with time period. The ballet will combine the flavor of that romanticized era with the depth of the novel.

— What’s the first thing you did to create the ballet?

Colleen Smith – Read and research. For this story ballet, I read The Great Gatsby once for pleasure, then twice more to analyze the story with extensive research on its historic context. I’ve also listened to the four pieces of music that were mentioned in the book, like “Ain’t We Got Fun?” The music and the elements of the story allowed me to create the initial images I wanted for the ballet.

—As a choreographer where/when do you get your best ideas?

Colleen Smith – The shower for one, believe it or not. There have been studies that say the ions near water (like by the beach, for instance) help the brain processes. It’s become rather typical for me to burst out of the bathroom and exclaim to my husband, “Scott, I have an idea!” Also, the dancers, themselves, give me a tremendous amount of inspiration. Or, if I’m in the studio and stuck at a point, it helps to disengage, to take a break by walking into a different room or outside. That way, once I go back, I have a fresh perspective.

—What message/emotion do you want the audience to leave the theatre with?

Colleen Smith – I want them to be equally entertained and enriched! I also hope they appreciate our attention to detail and are ultimately intrigued and amazed by what Ballet Palm Beach can do!

—What’s your favorite slang/phrase from the 1920’s?

Colleen Smith – “bee’s knee’s!”

Keep those eyeballs peeled for upcoming behind-the-scenes footage and check the links below for even more content. (After, you’ve bought those tickets, of course). It’s … ahem… the arthropod’s patellae! (That was just for you, Mr. “Babylon Revisited”… sheesh!)

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[Photography by Steven Caras © All Rights Reserved]