Summary of the first rehearsal period of THE GREAT GATSBY ballet

August 15 was the final day of the first rehearsal and production period of THE GREAT GATSBY ballet. The second stage will begin shortly - in September. Director and choreographer of the project Dwight Rhoden shared his feelings on the work. 

Anna Stavichenko recorded the talk exclusively for


During the interview famous American choreographer and co-founder of the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dwight Rhoden often used the word «open». Seems like the word is perfectly fit to describe Mr Rhoden himself. Here, in Kiev he has been working on THE GREAT GATSBY ballet production for several weeks. Rehearsals last six hours daily, but Mr. Rhoden dedicated his Sunday morning to tell us about preparation for the ballet, tell a few jokes, talk about Ukrainian ladies and think of the present and future of contemporary choreography.


Dwight what is the story of Jay Gatsby about to you?

For me more than anything it’s about loneliness. It is about someone who is not being his authentic, his real self - Gatsby. Certainly the power and the money is just on the outside. But really if you go deeper it’s all about this man, who is without happiness because he’s reaching for things in all directions and it’s not real, he’s not going for the real thing. He’s not happy with who he really is.    


Amongst the dancers selected at the audition there are some with classical background and some who are self-taught. How working with one or the other is different? Is it true that classical background can stand in the way of adjusting to contemporary choreography?

I think that the advantage of working with younger dancers with less experience is that they are more open, less tainted. They have not formed all of their opinions about dance and movement, shapes, so they're more open to receive what I am going to give them. There's less resistance and they shut up [laughs] and just do it. Dancers who are more experienced come into the room with an opinion and sometimes it's harder to make them change.   


Would you say that the ladies are more reserved during the rehearsal?

I think that the young ladies are afraid to be provocative. The story is about women, this piece is not about little girls. They are sometimes not comfortable with themselves to be provocative. And the characters in the GATSBY are provocative. The dancers are more shy and I don't know if it's cultural because I don't know enough to say that Ukrainian women are not provocative. Because I see them in high heels, short skirts – they're gorgeous! They all look like models! It's because they're young these dancers – and often in the movement they don't know how to be a woman, they're not comfortable enough to show that in dance because It's not traditional for women in ballet to necessarily be burlesque, They have to show ideas of burlesque, they have to be sexy, strong and sometimes they have to be rebelious because there's a rebellion.


Amongst the dancers you're working with in Kiev are there any you could invite to your troupe?

Yes, I won't call any names but there is somebody who I like very much.


During the rehearsal it is noticeable that some of the episodes, some of the moves are created in the work process. Is that your usual approach to production or is it due to working with unfamiliar dancers whose capabilities you don't know very well yet?

I prepared some things before I came but I already taught them all of these. It is my approach to do movement on the spot. This is an original production – it's never been done before, for us this is brand new. So I think it's important to be spontaneous and to make work on the floor in the moment, I have to put the pressure on myself to do that, because they have pressure, I have pressure – it's equal pressure. And I like that pressure.


How do the appearance requirements differ for ballerinas in USA and in Ukraine? I know that you have requested that a few of the Ukrainian dancers loose some weight, whilst many girls in the Complexions Contemporary Ballet do not completely reflect the traditional ideal of how a ballerina's body should look. 

The dancers in the Complexions are mainly contemporary dancers but they're all classically trained – they all dance on pointe, they've all been to the academy, they've all studied. But i have girls who are six feet tall, I have girls who are very muscular, more thick, but not fat. So I think the difference is that with Complexions it's more open, because it is a contemporary company. Whereas in the Russian and Ukrainian school there's a look that they want and they don't steer away from this look much. Ballet was born here, in America we got it later, so it's just a different approach. However the difference between my company is that I actually like different bodies, I don't want everyone to look alike. 


Is there a way to visually identify what school a ballerina belongs to? 

Not always, no. But if you see her working by the barre you might be able to tell if she's Russian or Ukrainian - It's a very different way of standing. Even Americans who are Russian trained – you can see it right away. One of the dancers in my company she's a little thick but she only had Russian training, only in America. She's one of my favourites because she's so strong. She probably would not get into Mariinsky because she doesn't have the body. 



It is known that Balanchine didn't start working on choreography until he «saw» music. What about you? Do you influence the way the music is written by Konstantin Meladze? 

We lead each other. Sometimes – like now I'm creating a section where he's not finished with the music, so i have no idea but I gave him the rhythm in advance and said I needed this kind of feeling. Because of the time we must keep going, so I decided to go forward even without him, not waiting for the music. Many, many times I do it this way. There are other times, for instance the «back room» - this was the hardest one – he sent me the music and I continued to give him correction that I wanted, maybe five-six times back and forth. But then he gave me the party scene – I loved it! There was just one small thing I had to change, otherwise it was perfect for me. It's always the best part, it's a good situation – choreographers want to work with the composition for the most part – a live composer. Sometimes in America for dance it is expensive so it is difficult - you have to find the funding for the composer and the ballet. The first piece I did was for Diana Vishneva at the Mariinsky with the composer, who is actually Russian but he lives in America, his name is David Rosenblad. We made a score for this original ballet and I loved working with him as well. I try to do it as much as I can and I would like to do it more.


Do you think your choreography in THE GREAT GATSBY influences the development of modern ballet?


What an ambitious question. There are many choreographers in America that I know of and maybe elsewhere have been influenced by my direction as a choreographer for sure. They’re more courageous to unite all things in one area. There are choreographers who have definitely been inspired by what I did because when I did this in 1994 it was a new way in America. In my work many people think that I’m doing something new because I do not look at boundaries, I do not look at dance like ballet or jazz, hip-hop. I look at it all as one thing. I believe you must have a strong classical foundation in ballet no matter what to hit the notes purely. It’s just like if you were a singer or a musician, you have to play the A, the C clearly. So I’m a traditionalist in some ways. However I don’t see creation in that way. I see creation as now, in this day where we are. I see creation more like the world – the world is not where everyone is all alike. I believe in mixture. I think it’s a beautiful thing – you can learn more, experience more. I think it’s important and what I’m doing with my vision as a director and choreographer is trying to show the world with the Complexions Ballet, with my productions like Gatsby that we are all the same and we can unite in the middle of the art, the middle of the production, the middle of the feeling and the middle of dance, the symphony. This is where you unite all of it. So my vision is about fusion, but not just fusion for that – but unity. That’s really what I believe and that’s the reason I started my company.


You're staying close to Maydan at the moment. Does the situation in the country affect you in any way? Do you feel that art carries a new level of significance at times like these? 

I think the beauty of this project is that it's an international project. American choreographer, Ukrainian composer, Ukrainian dancers, American dancers, Russian dancers. I think it will speak loudly if people see that nothing is just one thing really and the world is a mixture. Hopefully the stage will be the place where people will forget their differences and have a dream, a fantasy for a few hours and then go home.


Photos by Igor Chursin