The ‘20s-themed show, “Strictly Gershwin,” made its way to North America after a wildly popular run in Europe.
The dancers floating across the stage to the live orchestra music in Tulsa Ballet’s performance of “Strictly Gershwin” transported the audience back to the glitz and glamor of 1920s Hollywood. From the opening strains of music by the live orchestra on stage, led by a very entertaining conductor, to the final pose of the troupe of dancers, the performance is captivating. Making its North American debut, “Strictly Gershwin,” choreographed by Derek Deane and featuring the music of George and Ira Gershwin, is not just a classical ballet performance. This production incorporates elements of live orchestra, singing and tap dancing to create an entertaining, immersive experience about the golden age of Hollywood.
This ballet does not feature a common storyline, but rather centers around the common theme of 1920s Hollywood showcasing a variety of numbers. This format makes it feel less like a classical ballet and more like an old Hollywood musical, which traditionally incorporated many different musical numbers but weaved them together to create a story.
Act I of “Strictly Gershwin” opened with the live orchestra onstage playing an uplifting, jazzy tune which set the tone of the production for the audience. Gareth Valentine, the aforementioned conductor, directed the orchestra while enchanting the audience with delightfully humorous facial expressions, hinting at what was to come in the performance. The first troupe of dancers entered the stage. The ladies were wearing sparkly gold tutus, which immediately set the mood of the showiness of Hollywood spinning and jumping effortlessly across the stage setting the tone for the rest of the performance.
After the opening ballet number, the production included everything from vocalists to tappers. Vocalists Teri Bibb, Christina Saffran, Scott Joiner and Terry Wazell lent their dynamic voices to this show. Interspersed through Act I, the vocalists sang classic love songs while the male and female lead danced to the heartfelt lyrics. These numbers harkened back to some of the iconic couples of Hollywood.
“Fascinatin’ Rhythm” was the first number to feature tappers. This high-energy song featured Kris Kerr and Bill Simpson joining the vocalists on-stage. The audience cheered in appreciation as they entered the scene.
The number “‘S Wonderful” was devoted to the beloved pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. For this number, the women wore glamorous sparkly-white dresses that twirled out gracefully when they spun.
Act I ended on a high note with the number, “An American In Paris.” This performance was about a naive, young American in Paris who finds his true love but keeps being torn from her. This fun, musical piece included acrobats and a man on a bike, ending on a whimsical note.
Act II opened with one of Gershwin’s most popular compositions, “Rhapsody in Blue,” which featured pianist Andrew Lahti and a large number of Tulsa Ballet dancers, who sailed across the stage in ice blue tutus and tuxedos.
A number exclusively for tap dancers, “Oh, Lady Be Good,” featured a group of guest tappers led by Maria Briggs, Kris Kerr and Bill Simpson. This fast-paced number left the audience in uproarious applause.
The “Fascinatin’ Rhythm Finale” featured every element utilized during the performance, unifying the whole show on happy note. The audience gave a standing ovation.
After seeing this production, I can see why it was so popular in Europe and why they wanted to bring it to the American stage. This ballet is always introducing new elements, making the audience wonder what is going to happen next. This ballet was unique, and the wonderful musical numbers made me want the experience to never end.
Although February 9 through 11 was the only weekend for “Strictly Gershwin,” they have upcoming ballets that should not be missed. Tulsa Ballet will perform the classic tale of “Cinderella” on the weekend of March 16 through 18. In April, they offer their TBII: Emerging Choreographers Showcase. Tulsa Ballet ends their spring season with their Signature Series May 3 through 6.