The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Raven, and The Lady in the White Veil are all tales of protagonists who stray too near the shadowlands, so they make an obvious enough collection for a Halloween run from Carolina Ballet. But among these new works, we also find an improbably thought-provoking interpretation of an October classic. Though resident choreographer Zalman Raffael's headlining Legend of Sleepy Hollow mainly sticks to the surfaces of Washington Irving's story, it still provides sly social commentary with imaginative, repurposed musical selections from Camille Saint-Saëns and Aaron Copland.
Yevgeny Shlapko's diffident Ichabod Crane is a vivid portrait of geeky awkwardness two centuries ago, as a man of learning finds himself out of his element in the rural culture of Tarrytown, New York. The townspeople's theme is the Shaker hymn "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple," and similarly pointed sections from Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals—including "The Cuckoo" and the donkeys in "Characters with Long Ears"—accompany depictions of social interplay. But the most unexpected and touching part of this work lies in Raffael's new vision of Crane as he realizes that prospective bride Katrina Van Tassel (Alyssa Pilger) has rejected him. It's set to a song known to ballet lovers the world over—a spoiler we can't reveal.
Among the haunting technical notes that grace the opening of artistic director Robert Weiss's Lady in the White Veil, Ross Kolman's lights and Jeff A.R. Jones's set design help portray the title character as a dark beauty who is literally lighter than air. As dancer Richard Krusch pursues his veiled desire (Lily Wills) across the stage, his insistent character unwisely convinces her of his sincerity, prompting a permanent change in their relationship.
In The Raven, the evening's triumph, Weiss more deeply probes the destabilizing psychology of grief. In this imaginative retelling, Nikolai Smirnov's black bird doesn't travel the night's Plutonian shore alone. When he invades the one-room dwelling of a scholar (Sokvannara Sar), the raven brings with him a spectral but all too real Lenore.
Margaret Severin-Hansen's performance suggests Rossini's "Beata Beatrix": a woman somehow alive in death. The memory and presence of the scholar's love should comfort him. But, as she is manipulated in a ghastly tug of war, Lenore's sylphlike presence only underscores his loss, amplifying his torment in an unlikely dance of death for three.