In keeping with tradition, Ballet Pensacola is beginning their performance season in a ghoulish manner.
For the past few years, the ballet company opened with “Dracula.” This year however, a new tale will be told with “The Headless Horseman” ballet.
“We have really created our own version of the story to make it the most effective for dance,” said Richard Steinert, artistic director for Ballet Pensacola. “I particularly liked the challenge of this, its feeling of Americana, and the opportunity to meld numerous different versions of ‘The Headless Horseman’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’”
Using a fairy tale as the inspiration for a ballet is fitting due to their shared magical elements, Steinert explained.
“When it comes to knowing if a story will translate into ballet, I can only say that I have learned to trust my instincts,” he said. “Everyone told me ‘The Matrix’ would never succeed as a ballet, and it is one of Ballet Pensacola’s biggest selling works. I think there is a story in most everything you say or do. Then it’s up to the skill the choreographer has to translate it to wordless speech.”
Beyond the magic of storytelling, creating an original ballet begins and ends with trust.
“Building ballets for a living is mostly about trusting your own voice—if you hear yourself clearly, chances are you can make others hear too,” Steinert said.
“The Headless Horseman” will be debuting at the second half of the evening, with the first half dedicated to pieces choreographed by Steinert’s wife, Ballet Mistress Christine Duhon and the grand pas de deux from “Don Quixote.”
“Christine and I toss around a number of ideas before we settle on one, and this slot of the season is always ripe with ideas for spooky type works,” Steinert said.
“I feel fortunate to work every day with my wife and my best friend,” he added. “We each bring our own ideas to the table, are each prepared to give up a little, get a little, and walk away with a product that is innovative and fits the desires of our audience.”
Six new dancers will be making their debut with Ballet Pensacola this season. Steinert said this year proves to have a “strong and provocative company.”
“This is a great group with strong voices, so I try and listen as I build ballets,” he said of the company. “It makes the ballets more real, more honest and gives the dancers a sense of ownership in the not just the performance, but the process as well. And if the process is true and strong, you have given the artists the best foundation you can to meet an audience with an open heart and willing soul.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting characters to take the stage opening night will be the horse-like structure created for “The Headless Horseman.”
Steinert, Duhon and Production Designer Lance Brannon work closely together when it comes to creating a full show.
When it came to choosing “The Headless Horseman” for the opening show, Steinert said he knew it would require some technical innovation. Luckily, Brannon is just the man to execute his vision.
“It’s great to work with a guy like Lance, who you can go to and say, ‘build me a fully articulated horse that can show emotion and can be ridden’ and know that he will do it,” Steinert said.
Small teasers of the horse Brannon created have made it to the ballet’s social media. In the company’s online video series titled “Life in the Mirror,” you can see a sneak peek of the structure that was built with PVC pipe.
“When I was told we were going to be doing ‘The Headless Horseman,’ my initial reaction was, ‘Then we’re gonna need a horse,’” Brannon said. “I was excited about tackling that challenge.”
When creating his design, Brannon took a cue from the Broadway production of “War Horse,” which featured a life-size horse puppet.
“As a designer, you always want what ever you are creating to be yours,” Brannon said. “However, I looked at their creation and saw that the basic design was solid and felt that there was no reason to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”
Whether you’ve been anticipating the return of Ballet Pensacola productions or you’re a ballet neophyte, “The Headless Horseman” and accompanying repertoires are guaranteed to entertain you or maybe even spook you—tis the season after all. To get even more in the Halloween mood, audiences are invited to wear their best costumes.
“I do like to keep the opening season Halloween-ish,” Steinert said.