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Eighth Graders, Dancers Treated to “Gatsby” Ballet at Benjamin Hall

Nick+Carraway+%28Jake+Lowenstein%29+dances+with+his+love+interest%2C+Jordan+Baker+%28Brittany+Bonefas%29.
Nick Carraway (Jake Lowenstein) dances with his love interest, Jordan Baker (Brittany Bonefas).

Nick Carraway (Jake Lowenstein) dances with his love interest, Jordan Baker (Brittany Bonefas).

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith

Nick Carraway (Jake Lowenstein) dances with his love interest, Jordan Baker (Brittany Bonefas).

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The auditorium was dark. Then, the lights clicked on, filling the stage with  a bright yellow light, like the first sun of spring. The show had commenced. The dancers moved gracefully across the floor, their bodies floating, intertwining, and unspooling. The set was simple – a couch, an end table, and some faux windows to set the scene. Yet every eye was watching the dancers as they leapt and glided across the expanse.

This performance came courtesy of  Ballet Palm Beach, and was choreographed by the company’s director, Mrs. Colleen Smith. The show was Gatsby, and was based on the classic 1925 American novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The entire eighth grade, along with the seventh and eighth-grade dance students, joined the high schoolers in Benjamin Hall to see it.

Matthew Smith
Gatsby (Tyveze Littlejohn) leaps onstage with Tom Buchanan (Aaron Melendrez), the husband of Gatsby’s old flame, Daisy.

The story, considered by many to be Fitzgerald’s best work, is about a young writer, Nick Carraway, who befriends an eccentric millionaire, Jay Gatsby, after moving to West Egg, New York. Gatsby confides in Carraway that he is still in love with Carraway’s cousin, Daisy, with whom he had a relationship before WWI. However, Daisy is now married, making things complicated for Gatsby. Soon after Gatsby makes his feelings known to Daisy towards the end of the ballet, he is murdered, and Carraway is left to ponder the tragedy.

The middle school students attended not only to be exposed to this classic piece of literature, but so they could also  appreciate the telling of the story through the art of ballet.

“First of all it was a beautiful ballet,” said English Department Chair Mrs. Kathleen Devine. “It was enriching for many of you to see a ballet for the first time, and it was also a great example of an ‘ekphrasis’ – one work of art interpreted by another. Also, the fact that we all got together and went to an artistic event [was wonderful] – the more things you are exposed to in the arts, the more opportunities there are for people to find a love for something.”

The eighth grade English students are constantly creating works of ekphrasis in their poetry journals, as they sketch drawings or find photos from the web that help interpret their original poems or ones they read.

Like Devine, the middle school students appreciated the performance as well. “I believe that the [ballet company] did a great job representing the book without words,” said eighth grader Ignas Berciunas. “They told the story beautifully, and the dancers showed great emotion while playing the roles.”  

Matthew Smith
Carraway dances with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Lily Ojea Loveland), as Jordan and Tom rest on the couch.

“I think [the ballet] did well based on the plot of the story because it showed the key parts, such as the part where Gatsby gets shot,” added fellow eighth grader Will DiMaio.

Some students were simply stunned by the gracefulness of the dancers, such as eighth grader Zach Loceff. His favorite part of the ballet was “when they would jump in the air and float like there was no gravity.”

After the ballet, Smith held a Q & A with the students. One of the questions was about the choice to have an African-American dancer, Tyreze Littlejohn, play Gatsby. Smith responded that Littlejohn was the best dancer for Gatsby and represented the character beautifully.

“I think Colleen Smith said it perfectly,” said middle school dance teacher Mrs. Rachel Rudner, who brought her dancers to the performance. “I mean, in dance you don’t see color, you just see dancer. You see the movement, [and Smith] said she thought he was best fit for the role, and I totally thought so too.”

The ballet was a great experience for the students as it was a cross-curricular approach, providing them with both an example of brilliant literature and a creative art form.  “It was really beautiful,” said eighth grader Danielle Lancaster, “ and I am so excited I got to see it.”

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Eighth Graders, Dancers Treated to “Gatsby” Ballet at Benjamin Hall