“Great Gatsby” at Eugene Ballet Company, April 10, 2016

Eugene audiences were treated to two world premieres yesterday, as the Eugene Ballet Company presented Suzanne Haag’s Look and Toni Pimble’s The Great Gatsby.

            Haag’s work dove into the stark new reality of mass choreography – the dance we’re all (perhaps unwittingly) enthralled with as we tune into mobile devices, rather than each other. Set to charging music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and featuring lush solos by Kaori Fukui, the ensemble rose to the occasion for this piece, finding subtlety and nuance within the sometimes-dissonant range of movement. Haag plays with themes around relationship and communication by breaking the classical ballet lines, by tweaking the angles or skipping the beat – she demonstrates the discord that arrests people in their tracks as they pan over the latest viral video, or stop to take a group selfie.

            Haag is one of the founders of Instaballet – an exciting, boundary-breaking improv group that seeks to demystify dance. We hope to see more of her work in the future, and to see how she continues to develop as an artist.

            Look made an interesting companion to Gatsby, since the famous jazz-age novella expresses contempt for the decadence of that era’s excesses, even underneath all the glitz and glamour.

            (Are there parallels that could be made between posting a picture of the perfect brunch to Instagram, and hosting a massive party on your West Egg estate? Discuss.)

            Pimble’s choreography shimmers, finding precise bearings and powerful energy within the loose, drunken atmosphere. She plays with swing, Charleston and partner work that echoes the innovation of the creative times.

            Set to music by Wynton Marsalis, the full-length work pulses like a pot on simmer, that slowly comes to a rolling boil, heating up with intrigue and the omnipresent humidity of an inescapable (pre air conditioning) New York summer.         The music is like its own character here, a voice from a different time and place, played to perfection by Orchestra Next, under the direction of the inimitable Brian McWhorter, who serves double duty on trumpet.

            How much fun is Mr. McWhorter having? By the looks of it, a lot, and the band, along with the dance, had a transformative quality, rendering the formalism of the Silva Concert hall to a kind of speakeasy, to a bathtub gin party we were all invited to.

            Lighting design by Michael Peterson, and sets by Josh Neckels and Barry Rodgers, set the mood. 

            Costume design by Toni Pimble, coordinated by Shauna Durham, burnished the story, evoking the pearlescent heyday, and enhancing character and plot.

            And hats off to the creative team that brought a 1929 Mercedes Benz onstage. Let us heretofore give up our economy cars and go back to driving only roadsters.

            The lead dancers embody their roles with panache, from Mark Tucker as the stoic Gatsby, to Cory Betts as Nick Carraway, to Isaac Jones as Tom Buchanan, and Reed Souther as George Wilson, the dancers elevate every gesture, every look, with an actorly commitment that matches their physical verve.

            The women, too, are hard to forget: Victoria Harvey as Daisy Buchanan, Beth Maslinoff as Jordan Baker and Danielle Tolmie as Myrtle Wilson, imbue every scene with passion and a kind of doomed frivolity.

            Pimble finds opportunities for other dancers to stretch out: As guests at the party, Yoshie Oshima and Hirofumi Kitazume pretty much steal the show.

            As a complete concert, these two pieces – though quite different – are thoughtfully complementary, with Haag’s soloist almost serving as a set of oculist eyes, looking down on our moment in history, and its excesses, as we drive by unawares.