In case you haven’t heard yet, Washington Ballet is bringing the world premiere of Sleepy Hollow to Kennedy Center February 18-22. If waiting over a month to enjoy it all is seeming too long, then you’re (mostly) in luck today. Design Army, longtime creative collaborators of The Washington Ballet, and videographer Dean Alexander went ahead and filmed a gorgeous, haunting, and wonderfully weird preview video for the production at the National Arboretum.
The video itself premiered today on Washington Post (click here for their full story), but we have some wonderful behind the scenes photos that show you HOW the magic happened, as well as a little Q&A with Design Army’s Pum Lefebure about the creative process…
Enjoy, and pencil Feb 18-22 onto your dance fan card.
Ballet is obviously on stage and this video takes it out of the theatre and into the world. What did the Washington Ballet think of that approach vs the classic preview video?
“Usually the Ballet shoots a lot of dance videos in the studio, or uses a replay of the on-stage production. But when we collaborated with them before on the Wonderland book, we took the dancers out on the street to dance in different D.C. settings, both known and unknown. However, that was purely photography — I don’t think they’ve done a video like this. It’s pretty unusual — we managed to make a ballet movie that doesn’t really have dancing in it.
We feel like Sleepy Hollow is beyond just dance — it’s art. The production itself is art in all its forms. The stage and scenery pulls from the Hudson River School; the costumes are a more fashion-oriented twist on traditional colonial style. Everything has a little bit of historical reference with a modern spin, and we felt like the video production should have that element, too. Our job is to create mystery, allure, and — ultimately — a desire to see the show.”
Visually, what were some of the inspirations for the shoot? Did you watch any of the other film/cinematic interpretations? What did you think of them?
“Of course, we watched the Tim Burton movie, but we don’t want to be that scary. This is art — it’s ballet. So it was more about how we could tell a scary story, but in a beautiful, magical way. The word ‘magic’ isn’t how you’d typically describe Sleepy Hollow, but Septime [Webre] has put in a lot of things you wouldn’t expect, including Matthew Pierce’s original composition, which was written just for the production.
For inspiration, I looked at children’s book illustrations. Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is one of my favorite inspirations, and you can see a lot of that in the way characters peek out from behind and between trees, and in the scale – the way things get bigger or smaller. That book can be very scary but also touching, and that feeling applies to this film.
Also, since the costumes were created for the production by Liz Vandal (of Cirque du Soleil fame), it was really important to make them and the hair/makeup look good. A production can start to look costume-y really quickly, but the edgy hair and makeup gives it a fashion twist. The idea was to make it scary at first sight, but up close it’s actually quite stunning.”
What were some of the challenges and benefits of shooting at the Arboretum?
“Because it’s run by the National Park Service, we could only be there at certain times to begin with; on top of that, we shot this on a Sunday, so we had to get special permission. And then we had to shoot at night, so it was a little bit tricky in terms of lighting because it was pitch dark. We shot in the Redwood Forest, which is a special place within the park. The redwood trees look very majestic, and it feels like you’re not even in D.C. With this video, we’re trying to create a sense of place, and while the redwood forest is very specific within the park, it’s also surrounded by roads. So, in order to create the idea that we’re in the middle of nowhere, we had to fog up all the roads and make it feel like a totally different place and time.
As for benefits, you get a great location, like the Redwood Forest, which you’d have to go outside of this region to find otherwise. Plus, shooting in D.C. meant that all the crew was local, and it just makes things easier when you can use local talent.”
You’ve been working with the Washington Ballet for a while…. what have been some of your other favorite collaborations with them thus far?
“The Wonderland book was a year-long project where we photographed ballet dancers all around D.C. I think we captured the spirit of the Washington Ballet as an art form, and it helped promote the concept of art in Washington. We shot on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is iconic to everyone in the world, but then we also shot at the reservoir, which some D.C. locals don’t even know about.
I think it’s our job as a design firm to promote our city whenever we can; to use our knowledge and talent to help D.C. become better known for art and design; and to help other organizations get recognized.”
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