The Carolina Ballet is officially my favorite destination in the Triangle for a classy, artistic, gorgeous version of the usually icky, spooky, gross Halloween festivities. This year’s choice to celebrate their 20th anniversary season with three appropriate yet not-the-usual-Dracula ballets is a great one, and the nearly full house for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Other Haunted Tales in Raleigh, NC’s A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater unanimously agreed
The evening begins ominously with The Lady in the White Veil, based on the 1909 book by Rose Cecil O’Neill. A veiled apparition of a woman in a wedding dress threads her way through the audience, pausing momentarily at the piano (which is playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, though the piano player is invisible), then returning back through the audience to disappear backstage. That moment was this reviewer’s introduction to Lily Wills, the evening’s substitute for principal Jan Burkhard
Wills is a pleasant surprise, a gorgeously long, magical dancer whose lovely hands and arms practically floated throughout her time on stage. Every movement of her head, the crispness of her toe work, and the hesitation when she’s pulling away from her partner, principal Richard Krusch, evokes the ghostliness of the being whom she portrays. Their partnership is an equal one. Wills’ timing and Krusch’s strong lifts help them to work well together and make them lovely to watch. Wills is a dancer to watch
The second dance in the Halloween theme begins with the spoken word, the familiar poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. The stage is dark until the lights brighten a bit on the figure slumped against the desk. Sokvannara Sar portrays the Scholar, a moody, tortured man who is being driven crazy by the Raven (Nikolai Smirnov), as well as by his love for Lenore (Margaret Severin-Hansen)
The dance, choreographed by Robert Weiss, the Carolina Ballet’s co-artistic director, as is the first ballet, is a frenetic, often awkward dance, connecting to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a rather discordant piece of music.
Severin-Hansen is her usually brilliant self, portraying Lenore with a ghostly sadness that makes her appear taller and longer than her tiny frame. At one point, she rolls across the floor; and even that move is balletic and unbelievably graceful. Sar is a strong partner for her; and so is Smirnov, making their pas de trois equally matched when one man basically tosses Severin-Hansen to the other. At times, she seems to fly
Several times, the audience gasped; and at the end, shouts of “Brava” and “Bravo,” erupted from audience members. This incredibly well-danced piece that truly deserved its standing ovation
In the past, this reviewer has commented on the length of the evening’s show when there are two intermissions. Last night’s performance was perfectly balanced, with a fairly short ballet, then a pause, another fairly short ballet, an intermission, and then the main performance. Perfect. Everyone returns to their seats after intermission to see Sleepy Hollow, the star of the evening — and well worth the wait
Zalman Raffael, the Carolina Ballet’s co-artistic director and choreographer-in-residence, choreographed the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, a tale created by American short story writer Washington Irving in 1820. The story probably cemented the fear of crossing covered bridges and walking through cemeteries at night for school children from thence forward. Raffael understands the story’s lighter moments, however, and aptly cast the energetic and dramatic Yevgeny Shlapko, who lights up the stage as the goofy, and awkwardly brave, Ichabod Crane
Crane, the village’s schoolteacher, is in love with the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel (Lara O’Brien), but so is Abraham (Marcelo Martinez). The love triangle plays off well against the spooky backdrop of a haunted forest, where the Headless Horseman scares people half to death. O’Brien, an audience favorite, is elegant and regal in her first pas de deux with Shlapko. It’s a sweet and romantic dance that defines the shy character of their relationship
Martinez exaggerates facial expressions to become the romantic rival, but something in his acting felt off, as if he’s not comfortable in the role. A strong dancer, he is often the male in the company who easily elevates his female partners into complicated grand jeté or assemble lifts; however, he pales in comparison to Shlapko
The other secondary characters who have stage time for a pas de deux are Katrina Van Tassel’s rich parents, Lady Van Tassel (Lindsay Purrington) and Baltus Van Tassel (Kiefer Curtis). Purrington, a Raleigh native who’s been a soloist in the company for more than a decade, dances around Curtis, who has been newly promoted to soloist. Their dance is shaky, at best; and it often seems as though Curtis might drop Purrington during a lift. He appears stiff and only comfortable when dancing with the troupe.
The nicest thing about this season’s selection of ballets is that there are more roles available for children, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was no exception. In their dance with Ichabod, the children create a light moment that brings giggles from the audience
Three beautiful, spooky ballets to start off the Halloween season. What could be more perfect?
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with The Lady in the White Veil and The Raven, will be performed at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater until Oct. 29th. Get your spook on with some of the best dancers in the South!
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article177639441.html; and Oct. 6th Raleigh, NC Triangle.com preview by Linda Haac: http://www.triangle.com/performing-visual-arts-raleigh/just-in-time-for-halloween-carolina-ballet-to-debut-sleepy-hollow-1493/.
The Carolina Ballet presents THE LEGEND OF SLEEP HOLLOW & OTHER HAUNTED TALES at 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 2 p.m. Oct. 15, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 21, 2 p.m. Oct. 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 28, and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $57.15-$96.15, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID and free to high school students with ID. Click here for details.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow-other-haunted-tales, https://www.facebook.com/events/1388454614566346/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/sleepy-hollow-7179.
2017-18 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2017-2018-season.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet‘s co-artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet‘s co-artistic director and Carolina Ballet‘s choreographer-in-residence): http://zalmanraffael.com/ (official website) and https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/dancers-entry/zalman-raffael (Carolina Ballet bio).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.