artandculture Ballet

Day of the Gypsy: Feel the Passion

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 Jennie Velasco

The spirit of the gypsies was colorful and vibrant.  As was this weekends ballet performance of Day of the Gypsy at the Harris Theater in Chicago.  A live band supported the dancers in the foreground emitting the vibrancy of a culture from fables and fantasy.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with Day of the Gypsy's creator, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, who had told me this had been long created since 2009.  His first experiences with the genre "gypsy jazz" had been surrounded by elements of franco-American swing, different types of centric Arabic dance, with contemporary ballet.  He worked along side Grammy-winning musician John Jorgenson that essentially helped shape the atmosphere of the ballet.  Since 2009 there had been a handful of pieces performed across several stages that would later contribute to the full scale production.  

Photos courtesy of Matt Glavin Photography
To find someone to play his lead character, Django, was his challenge.  Experienced dancer, Randy Herrera (former dancer of the Houston Ballet) fit the part of the suave and cool antagonist of the story.  Other principal dancers Yumelia Garcia (former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet), Jennifer Goodman (former principal dancer of the Joffrey Ballet), and Tom Mattingly (former principal dancer of Ballet West) were others that brought Gordon's vision to life.  No auditions were held, but the recruitment of dancers within the industry expanded to ultimately bring together a 13 person dance cast.  As Gordon also said, not much was determined when creating the choreography, rather, the story and its characters were created "organically" as rehearsals went on.  And organic is the setting in which we find our principal characters:

The story follows Yumelia, an independent and passionate gypsy girl, who encounters a magical silken scarf with the potential to do wondrous things. She is observed by the insidious Django, a sly, suave and streetwise gypsy who steals the scarf from Yumelia then uses it to conjure an Average Joe, with the intent to steal then break Yumelia’s heart. But Yumelia enlists the aid of her gypsy clan to foil Django’s plan and help set things right.

Gordon considers Day of the Gypsy a family friendly narrative where he wanted to create an emotional contract with the audience, often making way for romantic and tender moments in the story with lighter elements of humor and celebration.  He allows viewers to feel part of the story and build a relationship with his characters.  When asked about the inspiration for such a story, he recalls moments with his mother and the stories she would often tell of his grandfather.  At a young age, in a much different time, his grandfather was kicked out of his house.  Gordon was told that his grandfather somehow ended up with a tribe of gypsies.  This vision comes from a fantasy of what that must have been like.  Day of the Gypsy accomplishes this celebrated vision of Gordon.  It was beautiful and fun and was well deserved of the standing ovation of loud cheers from the audience.  See a small clip from Day of the Gypsy here.

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