(MONTCLAIR, NJ) -- PEAK Performances at Montclair State University presents the world premiere of The Night Falls, choreographed and directed by Troy Schumacher (New York City Ballet and BalletCollective), with story and lyrics by Karen Russell (Swamplandia!, Vampires in the Lemon Grove), and music and lyrics by Ellis Ludwig-Leone (San Fermin), February 9–12, 2023. This interdisciplinary work created for nine dancers, eight singers, and a chamber music ensemble enmeshes opera, dance, and music theater to create a new myth within the dilapidated dreamscape of contemporary America.
All across America, people on the brink of despair begin to have the same nightmare. A song will not leave their heads—a terribly beautiful music. Its victims include Felisberto Robles, a Queens, NY teenager whose boyfriend has recently died. Night after night, Felis dreams of three women transformed into monstrous birds. They sing to him in his sleep, beckoning him to join them at "The Night Falls," a Floridian roadside attraction built around a sublime grotto, "home of the world's eeriest echoes. Desperate to learn why this song is haunting him—and desperate to hear it again—Felis makes the trip to the Night Falls Grotto. When he arrives, he discovers he is not alone.
Within a group of sufferers from all walks of American life—among them an athlete whose spirit is ravaged by a very public downfall, a mother who lost her daughter to addiction, a lapsed python hunter—The Night Falls depicts the metamorphosis of atomized individuals into a true community. With choreography that dramatizes the leap of empathy between bodies, and music that channels the polarities of surrender and resistance, The Night Falls shows the visceral power of art to brace us against the abyss of loneliness.
Jedediah Wheeler, who serves as artistic director of PEAK Performances for the 2022-23 season and recently announced he will retire from Montclair State University at the end of 2022, said, “There is a thrill to be had in discovering what these three tremendously talented artists make together for the world to enjoy for the first time. Imagine the possibilities. Takes my breath away. That's PEAK!”
A work that began gestating in 2017 between Schumacher and Ludwig-Leone—both enthusiasts of Karen Russell’s writing who initially did not know the author and reached out to an “intermediary” to ask her to join the project—The Night Falls has, in its thoroughly collaborative creation, come to emulate its own vision of how empathy enriches us by bringing us into each other’s stories and expressive languages. Russell, Ludwig-Leone, and Schumacher found themselves working within the same artistic idiolect—full of wit, levity, and lyricism—to apply to their evocation of lives circling the void.
Reflecting on how The Night Falls surrounds a battle between the allure of despair and self- destruction—vocalized by the beguiling contagion of the Sirenettes’ song—and the potential to resist and return to life among others, Karen Russell says, “Ellis and I still laugh about the fact that this meant I had to ask him, ‘Could you write something so hauntingly beautiful it would cause someone to leave everything behind and surrender to their despair? And then could you write an even more beautiful piece of music that would remind them of who they are and that would revive their life-wish and their sense of purpose and possibility? And he did.” She adds of Schumacher, “He externalizes people’s processes of dealing with hardship, transforming their private emotions into a poetry of movement, and dramatizing the way strangers develop a common vocabulary as they share the stories of their lives. That 'leap of empathy' becomes something muscular and miraculous in Troy's choreography, and it's the driving force of our show.”
Ellis Ludwig-Leone adds, “That’s what the entire experience of working on this piece has been for us. Writing music for me has been taking Karen’s words and stories and finding a musical way into them—into their intoxicating cocktail of wit and humor and sadness and wide range of emotion. Our cast is also a cross-section of people—singers from an opera tradition, from a theater tradition, members of San Fermin whose background is in indie and folk music—playing characters who end up in this grotto where they have to just talk to each other. If America is reflected here as a country of sufferers, it’s also a place where we are failing to communicate. Choreographically, musically, with the libretto, we’re asking, ‘How do people find a shared language and how do they create the ligatures and bonds that keep us together through suffering as opposed to drive us apart?’”
The Night Falls’ central staging conceit—with roles double cast, as dancers representing each character occupy the lower stage while singers give voice to them in an elevated limbo—reflects how despair has alienated them characters even from themselves, while allowing for full artistic commitment and dexterity within every element of the work. Troy Schumacher explains, “One of the beauties of this double casting is showing the disparity between how you see yourself and how you outwardly present. And in order for this to dramatically work, dancers have to be fully present in their bodies and singers in their voices. Separating them into these different planes, in the way Karen does in the libretto, is so brilliant: these characters have had their voice ripped out of them, metaphorically. In casting, we wanted to find two people for each character: not people who look alike, but rather two people whose complementary interpretations create a character and bring out their essence.”
As Russell has explored in her acclaimed writing, Florida in this piece operates as “America concentrate.” The Night Falls finds contemporary American mythology in this place where people from all over the country come to witness kitschily commodified beauty and wildness, tacky infrastructure gilding the sublime—in an ecosystem that acutely experiences the ramifications of larger society’s mistreatment of nature. Paintings by Harold García V, whose work presents the simultaneity of beauty and ecological degradation in the Everglades, were formative to The Night Falls’ aesthetic. Like the despairing people who’ve been lured to this derelict attraction, The Night Falls finds, in its setting, a beautiful, complex world on a precipice.
The Night Falls team includes Troy Schumacher (Choreographer/Director), Karen Russell (Librettist/Co-Lyricist), Ellis Ludwig-Leone (Composer/Co-Lyricist), Jason Ardizzone-West (Set Designer), Kenny Duecker (Associate Set Designer), Karen Young (Costume Designer), Amith Chandrashaker (Co-Lighting Designer), Abigail Hoke-Brady (Co-Lighting Designer), Harold Garcia V (Contributing Visual Artist), Hannah Tran (Projections), Garth MacAleavey (Sound Designer), and Naomi Woo (Music Director).
Performances of The Night Falls take place at the Alexander Kasser Theater (1 Normal Ave, Montclair, NJ) Thursday, February 9 and Friday, February 10 at 7:30pm, Saturday, February 11 at 8:00pm, and Sunday, February 12 at 3:00pm. Tickets: $50 | $40. 973-655-5112 or PEAKperfs.org
All Montclair State University undergrads receive a prepaid ticket with a valid ID.
Troy Schumacher is a Bessie-nominated American choreographer, dancer, and director living in New York, NY. His athletic aesthetic draws upon the artists he collaborates with to produce fresh, unexpected results. He is a soloist dancer with New York City Ballet and the founder of BalletCollective. He has been dubbed a “visionary artist” by T Magazine and is “one of his generation’s most acclaimed choreographers” (PBS). Schumacher’s work has been presented by Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Performa, Danspace Project, Guggenheim Works & Process, Guggenheim Bilbao, PEAK Performances at Montclair State University, the Joyce Theater, the Savannah Music Festival, and NYU Skirball Center, among others. He has collaborated with many artists including Jeff Koons, Karen Russell, Zaria Forman, Thom Browne, Ken Liu, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, Maddie Ziegler, and David Salle. In addition to live performances, Schumacher has choreographed numerous art, fashion, and commercial shoots, including works for Google, Sony PlayStation, Capezio, HP, Aritzia, CR Fashion Book, Tom Ford, and The New York Times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schumacher created, directed, and produced the first live world premiere ballets in the US: the one-act Natural History and the full-length Nutcracker at Wethersfield.
Karen Russell is the author of three story collections, most recently Orange World and Other Stories, the novella Sleep Donation, and the novel Swamplandia!, winner of the New York Public Library Young Lions Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2018 and 2012 National Magazine Award for Fiction, and was chosen for The New Yorker's "20 under 40" list and the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award. She has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bard Fiction Prize, and a Shirley Jackson Award. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her family.
Lauded by The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino for his “knack for simultaneously expressing beauty and crisis,” the music of Ellis Ludwig-Leone exists in the fine margins between euphoria and dread. Having come to international attention as the songwriter behind the celebrated band San Fermin, Ludwig-Leone has spent the last decade balancing his work as a songwriter with a robust career composing works for many of today’s contemporary classical luminaries. The 2022-23 season brings the premiere and album release of False We Hope, performed by the Grammy-winning Attacca Quartet and soprano Eliza Bagg (Roomful of Teeth); as well as the premiere of The Night Falls. This season will also see the premiere of Daphne, a musical drama for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; the premiere and subsequent European tour of a new work for harpist Lavinia Meijer and violist Nadia Sirota; and the premiere of a new work for choreographer Danielle Rowe and the Grand Rapids Ballet. Together with his bandmate Allen Tate, Ludwig-Leone is a founding partner of Better Company Records, a Brooklyn-based label with an emphasis on collaboration. He is a recipient of residencies from MacDowell and Banff Centre for the Arts.
PEAK Performances is a program of the Office of Arts + Cultural Programming at Montclair State University and has been honored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts with previous Arts Citation of Excellence and Designation of Major Impact. Wiley Hausam was recently named Director. He assumes the role in January 2023.
The Night Falls was developed and co-produced by BalletCollective, Inc. and PEAK Performances at Montclair State University. The Night Falls was developed during a Project Springboard: Developing Dance Musicals 2018 residency.
This season of PEAK Performances is made possible, in part, with funds from The Alexander Kasser Theater Endowment Fund, PEAK Performances patrons, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.