Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kennedy Center to Host Sleepy Hollow Ballet World Premiere

Luis R. Torres by Design Army and Dean Alexander

From our friends at the Washington Ballet...

The Washington Ballet Presents the World Premiere of Sleepy Hollow, February 18-22 with All-Original Costume, Set, Lighting, Puppet Design and Musical Score

The Washington Ballet presents Sleepy Hollow, the third installation in its ongoing “The American Experience” series of developing original full-length ballets based on iconic American literary masterworks.

In choosing to adapt America’s first great ghost story, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, into a ballet, Artistic Director Septime Webre was attracted by the opportunity to create a thrilling and theatrically extravagant work. The themes of post-Revolutionary America’s geographic and intellectual expansion given newly-won freedom are prevalent in the era the story reflects. The twin dynamics of fear and excitement of the unknown and the prospect of untapped potential serve as thematic inspirations. Irving’s classic tale integrates these factors into the setting which is placed in a town at the edge of a mysterious glen encapsulated in a dream state and addicted to superstition.

Directed and choreographed by Webre, the lush yet ominous setting for this ballet is inspired by Hudson River School artist landscapes and American portraiture works of the 19th century. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) is a unique partner in the conceptual development of a mise-en-scène of lush magnificence whose works helped directly inspire the set, projection, costumes, puppet and lighting design.

Award-winning Composer Matthew Pierce offers a haunting score with ancient Gaelic lyrics and hymns that will be performed live by a 14-piece orchestra and 18 choristers from the the Choristers of Washington National Cathedral Choir. Webre has assembled an “artistic dream team” of collaborators including Costume Designer Liz Vandal, Scenic and Properties Designer Hugh Landwehr, Lighting Designer Clifton Taylor, Projection Designer Clint Allen, Librettists Karen Zacarias and Bill Lilley and Puppet Designer Eric J.Van Wyk in the development of a stunning production that will transport audiences back to the famed and fated glen that author Washington Irvington describes as having “a drowsy, dreamy influence.”

The ballet features prominent Sleepy Hollow characters such as the vengeful Headless Horseman, three spectral witches, a “geek-chic” Ichabod Crane, a coquettish Katrina Van Tassel and the town rowdy Brom Bones. Drawing and mining from the sub-text of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the ballet will showcase dramatic scenes from the Salem Witch Trials, a horse chase through the hollow and a depiction of trapped souls being freed from a haunted graveyard. A prevalent character is the fire and brimstone preacher, Cotton Mather, a champion in the hysteria surrounding the Trials.

Sleepy Hollow begins with a prologue of the late seventeenth century Salem Witch Trials, where three women are accused of being witches and Cotton Mather leads the charge as the influential and powerful minister leader. Mather’s book, Wonders of the Invisible World, emphasized witchcraft as a tool of the devil, and this work was a favorite of Ichabod Crane’s: he was both attracted to and intrigued by witchcraft and superstition, yet also frightened by its power and mystery.

The ballet retains the original love triangle between Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel and Brom Bones. As homage to Washington Irving, there will be an added scene in which Ichabod tells Irving’s other famous story, Rip Van Winkle, to school children.

“The American Experience” initiative is unique to The Washington Ballet and was conceived and launched to transform the American dance aesthetic away from its traditional Eurocentric perspective to one that is rooted in the American experience. According to Webre, “the American story has not been told in ballet, and my interest is in telling these superb stories through iconic American literature while also reflecting the dance vocabulary.”

Sleepy Hollow is the first production based on a 19th century work of this initiative: The first two productions based on 20th century literary works included The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises. Both prior productions in the initiative have had critical success and acclaim for their stunning visuals and choreography consistent with the ambiance and cadence of each literary work.

“The Washington Ballet has chosen Sleepy Hollow not only for the grabbing imagery, but that Washington Irving is America’s first true celebrity author” as Webre puts it. “This is a man that made his pen a pistol and made fiction an American profession.”

Several former artistic collaborators return to TWB for this production: Composer Matthew Pierce, whose musical score for TWB’s ALICE (in wonderland) received critical raves as “The cherry on top...” creates a score that lends a cinematic quality to the production. His musical vision of the boundless and panoramic geography of a young United States is coupled with the eerie themes of the literary work. Pierce imparts a bold and fresh energy to the early 19th century story-based folk music and country fiddling that inspired his score and audiences will be thrilled with his nuanced and adventurous sound performed live by a chamber orchestra and youth choir. Working with a choir, Pierce states “…it adds a magical quality… the vocal power and delicacy takes the score to the next level.”

Many of the choir’s vocal lines are written in Gaelic hymn to create a worldly and supernatural mood. One specific poem written by Pierce for this production was inspired by a dullahan, or a headless Gaelic mythical fairy. A line repeats, “Ghearradh tú as mo cheann, is liomsa do cheann,” which translates to “You cut off my head, now yours is mine.”

A trifecta of award-winning visual artists, Set Designer Hugh Landwehr (Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, 2013), Projectionist Clint Allen and Lighting Designer Clifton Taylor (ALICE (in wonderland), 2012 and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, 2013) work in tandem to create a stunning multimedia set inspired by the boundless and romantic landscapes of the Hudson River School. Costume Designer Liz Vandal (ALICE (in wonderland), 2012) reinvents the characters with visually aggressive, symbolically thematic and captivating costumes. Puppeteer Eric J. Van Wyk (ALICE (in wonderland), 2012 and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, 2013) creates eerily distant yet accessible life-size horse puppets to complement the emotional intrigue of the characters. Inspired by the large scale contemporary equine sculpture works of Deborah Butterfield, these puppets lend a skeletal and surreal quality to the production.

Webre worked directly with recognized playwright and librettist Karen Zacarias and former professor of American History at Yale University, Bill Lilley to form the ballet version of this American classic. Both Lilley and Zacarias, who helped develop The Washington Ballet’s hit production of Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises into act form, are working with Webre to create the balletic version of Sleepy Hollow.

“Both Bill (Lilley) and Karen (Zacarias,) who have helped translate other great American works into dance form, naturally highlight the most important themes and ensure we express the core heart of the story” states Webre. Lilley, a pioneer in making Webre’s Sleepy Hollow a reality from its early concept, is familiar with The Washington Ballet’s repertoire and knew that Sleepy Hollow would not only parallel the stylistic choices of TWB, but that it would enhance them.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is an obvious partner for this “The American Experience” collaboration, as it exhibits one of the broadest and most in-depth collections of American art in the world. Fine art genres that inspired the production include Hudson River landscapes; 19th Century Colonial portraiture and Revolutionary War battle scenes. Images of these works will actually be incorporated in the design of the production. Early political cartoons and satirical drawings from other sources will also be projected as panoramic backdrops.

A collection of works used as inspiration for the scenic design of this production can be found on the SAAM Facebook page:

Sleepy Hollow, Eisenhower Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:
•  Wednesday, February 18, 7:30 PM (Preview)
•  Thursday, February 19, 7:30 PM (Opening Night)
•  Friday, February 20, 7:30 PM
•  Saturday, February 21, 1:30 PM
•  Saturday, February 21, 7:30 PM
•  Sunday, February 22, 1:30 PM
•  Sunday, February 22, 6:30 PM

Music: Matthew Pierce, Choreography: Septime Webre

Tickets for Sleepy Hollow start at $25 and are available at,, by calling (202) 467-4600 or visiting the Kennedy Center box office. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC.

Special Event: Sleepy Hollow: Ballet and American Art
January 31, 2015, 1-4:00 PM
Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Washington Ballet’s dancers and TWB Artistic Director Septime Webre will be joining Smithsonian American Art Museum in the Kogod Courtyard for a lecture and demonstration about Sleepy Hollow. Audiences will be able to enjoy performances of never-before-seen excerpts from the upcoming world premiere of Sleepy Hollow, a full length ballet based on Washington Irving’s classic American ghost story and inspired by Smithsonian American Art Museum’s celebrated collection of art from the Hudson River School. There will be interactive sessions about the creation of this new ballet, including in-depth discussions about the choreography, original costume and scenic design and the creation of an original musical score. Patrons can participate in family friendly events, such as meeting professional dancers, ticket giveaways and raffles and navigating the museum in an interactive scavenger hunt. The event concludes with patrons journeying on a self-guided tour of Sleepy Hollow-inspired American art through the museum. For tickets and information about TWB performances of Sleepy Hollow, visit or call TWB Patron Services at (202) 362-3606 x605 Monday - Friday 10 AM - 4:30 PM.

Celebrating its 70th Anniversary in the 2014-15 season, The Washington Ballet was originally founded as The Washington School of Ballet in 1944 by legendary ballet pioneer Mary Day and incorporated as a professional company in 1976. The Washington Ballet (TWB) is one of the pre-eminent ballet organizations in the United States. TWB built an international reputation presenting bold works by choreographers from around the world, including Choo San Goh, Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián, as well as neoclassical masterworks and fresh stagings of 19th century classics. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Septime Webre and Managing Director Arthur Espinoza, Jr., TWB has embraced a three-part mission: ensuring excellence in its professional performance company; growing the next generation of dancers through its Washington School of Ballet; and serving the community in which it resides through robust community engagement programs. For more information, visit