Fisher Center at Bard Kicks Off SummerScape 2023 with Illinois, a World Premiere Music-Theater Work Directed by Tony Award Winner Justin Peck and Based on Sufjan Stevens’ Acclaimed Album of the Same Name, June 23 – July 2
Production Features Choreography by Peck, Music and Lyrics by Stevens, and a Story by Peck and Pulitzer Prize Winner Jackie Sibblies DruryAnnandale-on-Hudson, NY—The Fisher Center at Bard presents Illinois, a world premiere music-theater work based on Sufjan Stevens’ acclaimed album of the same name, June 23 – July 2. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner and frequent Stevens collaborator Justin Peck (Carousel on Broadway, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, New York City Ballet), with music and lyrics by Stevens and a story by Peck and Pulitzer Prize winner Jackie Sibblies Drury (Fairview, Marys Seacole), this union of visionary artists is an ecstatic pageant of storytelling, theater, dance, and live music. Frequent Stevens collaborator Timo Andres has created new arrangements of Stevens’ songs—which stretch from DIY folk and indie rock to marching band and ambient electronics—to be performed by a live band (led by Nathan Koci, music director of the Fisher Center’s Tony Award-winning production of Oklahoma!) and three vocalists (including Illinois album backing vocalist Shara Nova), with twelve dancers embodying and propelling their ambitious storytelling. Illinois leads audiences on a journey through the American heartland, from campfire storytelling to the edges of the cosmos.
Cast of Virtuosic Dancers, Singers, and Musicians Assemble for Theatrical Interpretation of Stevens&a
Cast of Virtuosic Dancers, Singers, and Musicians Assemble for Theatrical Interpretation of Stevens&a
Part of the Fisher Center’s 20th Anniversary Season: Breaking Ground, Illinois kicks off SummerScape 2023 (June–August, 2023), the Fisher Center’s annual summer festival, “a hotbed of intellectual and aesthetic adventure,” (The New York Times). The production exemplifies the Fisher Center’s role as an internationally influential hub of artistic innovation and incubation, following works such as Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma! and Pam Tanowitz’s Four Quartets.
Stevens’ 2005 concept album Illinois enjoys cult status for its lush orchestrations and wildly inventive portrayal of the state’s people, landscapes, and history, complete with UFOs, zombies, and predatory wasps. Peck transforms Stevens’ giddily melodic Americana collage into a full-length theatrical performance, working with Sibblies-Drury to thread together a narrative that honors the album’s structure—and draws movement from its moments of rhapsody, sweetness, anxiety, and anguish. As Pitchfork wrote of Illinois in a rare “9.2”-rated review, “Stevens has a remarkable habit of being rousing and distressing at the same time, prodding disparate emotional centers until it’s unclear whether it’s best to grab your party shoes or a box of tissues.”
Like many fellow millennials to whom Illinois bears an enduringly immediate emotional resonance, Peck encountered the album as a teenager. He says, “I remember hearing this album for the first time and just being blown away by the whole world that it opened up: the way it fluidly could move between such a variety of styles and compositions. One moment, it’s a folk murder ballad; the next, it’s abstract instrumental music; the next, it’s a group singalong. This was before I realized I wanted to make dances, but I thought, ‘this is someone who really has an innate ability to write music for dance and music for storytelling.’”
In the early 2010s, Peck contacted Stevens, asking for permission to choreograph a ballet to a portion of his electronic album Enjoy Your Rabbit. Though Stevens professed having little interest in ballet at the time, he gave the go-ahead. The full-length work that emerged, Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, and their resulting friendship and ongoing artistic partnership, completely changed the musician’s relationship with the form. As Stevens described to The New York Times, “[Justin] persuaded me to have an education and kind of curated my experience [of ballet].” Stevens became captivated by how ballet “is all about absence of self—there is no ego in it, even though there is extreme self-consciousness. Ballet is like proof of the existence of God.” Peck and Stevens went on to collaborate on arresting dance works including Everywhere We Go, In the Countenance of Kings, The Decalogue, and Principia. With Illinois, they harness the mutual inspiration they've developed throughout their collaboration to, for the first time, explore the form of music-theater.
The music-theater adaptation of Illinois had been percolating as an idea since Peck first articulated it on a whim at a dinner with Stevens in 2014; it finally takes exuberant form nearly a decade later, and with the collective imagination of a dynamic team, in its world premiere at the Fisher Center. Peck sought dancers who were not only technically extraordinary, but whose manner of gesture and expression made them exceptional storytellers. They include Kara Chan (Four Quartets), Ben Cook (Spielberg’s West Side Story), Jeanette Delgado (Spielberg’s West Side Story), Gaby Diaz (winner of Season 12, So You Think You Can Dance?), Tilly Evans-Krueger (Moulin Rouge! The Musical), Jonathan Fahoury (New York City Ballet), Jennifer Florentino (Spielberg’s West Side Story), Brandt Martinez (Moulin Rouge! The Musical), Craig Salstein (American Ballet Theatre, Spielberg’s West Side Story), Ahmad Simmons (Fosse/Verdon), Byron Tittle (In the Heights film), and Ricky Ubeda (winner of Season 11, So You Think You Can Dance?), with swings Jada German, Matthew Johnson, Zachary Gonder, and Dario Natarelli.
Shara Nova (the acclaimed musician who has sung on many Stevens albums and tours, and is celebrated for her work as My Brightest Diamond), Tasha (the Chicago musician who, per Pitchfork, “writes minimal, unpredictable songs that explore the in-between states of relationships with subtlety and grace”), and Tariq al-Sabir (a composer, vocalist, and music director called a “rising musical mastermind” by The Baltimore Examiner) perform vocals and on guitar and synths. The band comprises Christina Courtin (violin/viola), Domenica Fossati (flute), Daniel Freedman (drums), Sean Forte (piano and keys), Kathy Halvorson (oboe), Nathan Koci (banjo), Eleonore Oppenheim (bass), Brandon Ridenour (trumpet), Kyra Sims (horn), Jess Tsang (vibraphone).
The creative team includes Sufjan Stevens (Music and Lyrics, based on the album Illinois), Justin Peck (Director/Choreographer/Story), Jackie Sibblies Drury (Story), Olivier Award nominee Nathan Koci (Music Direction and Supervision), Timo Andres (Music Arrangements and Orchestrations), Tony Award nominee Adam Rigg (Scenic Design), Brandon Stirling-Baker (Lighting Design), Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung (Costume Design), Garth MacAleavey (Sound Design), Andrew Diaz (Props Design), Julian Crouch (Masks), Adriana Pierce (Associate Direction & Choreography), Sean Forte (Associate Music Direction), and Natalie Hratko (Production Stage Manager).
Peck describes, “The proof of this album’s importance to a generation has come into play within the team that’s working on it. So many of us can pinpoint exactly where we were, what we were going through in our lives, what we connected to when we first heard this album. It’s both universal and incredibly specific, and personal. There’s so much inside of it. It’s this compressed thing, and it feels like if you decompressed it and laid it all out, it would be able to circle the globe eight times over.”
The Fisher Center at Bard’s 20th Anniversary Season: Breaking Ground is a celebration of the artists, audiences, students, faculty, and communities that have written the Fisher Center’s story for its first two decades and will imagine it into the future. This milestone season for the organization that incubates vanguard artists’ boldest ideas unfolds with unbounded and genre-defying visions for dance, theater, opera, and public discourse. The season will culminate in a groundbreaking ceremony for The Fisher Center’s new 25,000-square-foot performing arts studio building, designed by Maya Lin, which will offer artists at all stages of their careers vastly expanded room to explore as they build works from the ground up.
Illinois Schedule and Information
Illinois will have its world premiere at the Fisher Center June 23 – July 2, with the press opening taking place at a Chicago theater to be announced soon.
Friday, June 23 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 24 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 25 at 2 pm
Friday, June 30 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, July 1 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, July 2 at 2 pm
Tickets start at $25
Pre-Performance Toast for Members
Friday, June 23 at 6:30 pm
Opening Night Cast Party
Friday, June 23 at 9pm
Ticket price $150
Meet the artists and creative team at an exclusive after-party hosted at the fabulous SummerScape Spiegeltent.
Sunday, June 25 at 1 pm
Post-Performance Conversation with the Artists
Friday, June 30
SummerScape Coach from New York City
Sunday, June 25 and Sunday, July 2
For complete information regarding tickets, special packages, and more, visit fishercenter.bard.edu or call 845-758-7900.
About Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens is a singer, songwriter, and composer living in New York. His preoccupation with epic concepts has motivated two state records (Michigan and Illinois), a collection of sacred and biblical songs (Seven Swans), an electronic album for the animals of the Chinese zodiac (Enjoy Your Rabbit), a full length partly inspired by the outsider artist Royal Robertson (The Age of Adz), a masterwork memorializing and investigating his relationship with his late mother (Carrie & Lowell), and two Christmas box sets (Songs for Christmas, vol. 1-5 and Silver & Gold, vol. 6-10).
BAM has commissioned two works from Stevens, a programmatic tone poem for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (The BQE) and an instrumental accompaniment to slow-motion rodeo footage (Round-Up). He has collaborated extensively with the New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck (Year of the Rabbit, Everywhere We Go, Countenance of Kings, Principia, The Decalogue, and Reflections). Stevens’ Planetarium, a collaborative album with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister imbued with themes of the cosmos, was released in 2017 to widespread critical praise. Stevens also contributed three much-lauded songs to Luca Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed film Call Me By Your Name, including the Oscar and Grammy-nominated song “Mystery of Love.”
In 2020 he shared Aporia, a collaborative new age album made with his stepfather Lowell Brams, and his eighth studio album, The Ascension, a reflection on the state of humanity in freefall and a call for a total transformation of consciousness. In early 2021, he released Convocations, a five-volume, two-and-a-half-hour requiem mass for present times. The most recent studio album by Stevens—A Beginner’s Mind—features songs inspired in part by popular films. It was released in the fall of 2021 and is a collaboration with singer-songwriter Angelo DeAugustine.
About Justin Peck
Justin Peck is a Tony Award-winning choreographer, director, filmmaker, and dancer based in New York City. He is currently the acting Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet. Peck began choreographing in 2009 at the New York Choreographic Institute. In 2014, after the creation of his acclaimed ballet Everywhere We Go, he was appointed as Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet. He is the second person in the institution’s history to hold this title.
After attending the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center from 2003-2006, Peck was invited to join the New York City Ballet as a dancer in 2006. In 2013, Peck was promoted to the rank of Soloist, performing full-time through 2019 with the company.
Peck has created over 50 dance works—more than 20 for New York City Ballet. Working on a wide array of projects, Peck’s collaborators include composers Sufjan Stevens, The National, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Dan Deacon, Caroline Shaw, Chris Thile, Stephen Sondheim, M83, Dolly Parton; visual artists Shepard Fairey, Marcel Dzama, Shantell Martin, John Baldessari, Jeffrey Gibson, George Condo, Steve Powers, Jules de Balincourt; fashion designers Raf Simons, Mary Katrantzou, Humberto Leon (Kenzo, Opening Ceremony), Tsumori Chisato, Dries Van Noten; and filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Sofia Coppola, Damien Chazelle, Elisabeth Moss, Frances Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Jody Lee Lipes.
In 2014, Peck was the subject of the documentary Ballet 422, which presents Peck’s craft and creative process as a choreographer in great detail as he creates New York City Ballet’s 422nd commissioned dance.Peck has worked extensively as a filmmaker. In particular, his focus has been exploring new innovative ways of presenting dance on film. Peck choreographed the feature films Red Sparrow (2016), West Side Story (2021) in collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, and Maestro (2022) in collaboration with director/actor/writer Bradley Cooper. Peck’s work as a director-choreographer for music videos includes: “The Dark Side of the Gym” (2017) for The National; “Thank You, New York” (2020) for Chris Thile; and “The Times Are Racing” (2017) for Dan Deacon. In 2018, Peck directed the New York Times’ Great Performers Series.
Peck choreographed the 2018 Broadway revival of Carousel. The production was directed by Jack O’Brien and starred Jessie Meuller, Joshua Henry, & Renée Fleming.
Peck’s honors include the National Arts Award (2018), the Golden Plate Honor from the Academy of Achievement (2019), the Bessie Award for his ballet Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015), the Gross Family Prize for his ballet Everywhere We Go (2014), the World Choreography Award for West Side Story (2022), and the Tony Award for his work on Broadway’s Carousel (2018).
About Jackie Sibblies Drury
Plays include Marys Seacole (OBIE Award), Fairview (2019 Pulitzer Prize), Really, Social Creatures, and We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.
The presenters of her plays include Young Vic, Lincoln Center Theatre, Soho Rep., Berkeley Rep, New York City Players & Abrons Arts Center, Victory Gardens, Trinity Rep, Woolly Mammoth, Undermain Theatre, InterAct Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, Company One, and Bush Theatre. Drury has developed her work at Sundance, Bellagio Center, Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep, Soho Rep. Writer/Director Lab, New York Theatre Workshop, Bushwick Starr, LARK, and MacDowell Colony, among others.
She has received the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a Jerome Fellowship at The LARK, a United States Artists Fellowship, a Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, and a Windham-Campbell Literary Prize in Drama.
Illinois is a co-commission of the Fisher Center, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Southbank Centre, TO Live, and the Perelman Performing Arts Center, and has been made possible with a commissioning grant from The O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, residency support from Project Springboard: Developing Dance Musicals, and The Ted & Mary Jo Shen Charitable Gift Fund. The production is generously supported by Emily Blavatnik and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
The Fisher Center’s 20th Anniversary Season is dedicated to the founders of the Fisher Center who have cultivated extraordinary artistic experiences—past, present, and future. We honor the memory of Richard B. Fisher, a true champion of the arts and Bard College, and his visionary leadership.
The Fisher Center is generously supported by Jeanne Donovan Fisher, the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Foundation, Felicitas S. Thorne, the Advisory Boards of the Fisher Center at Bard and Bard Music Festival, Fisher Center and Bard Music Festival members, the Ettinger Foundation, the Thendara Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature. Fisher Center LAB has received funding from members of the Live Arts Bard Creative Council, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, and the Fisher Center’s Artistic Innovation Fund, with lead support from Rebecca Gold and S. Asher Gelman ’06 through the March Forth Foundation.
A special thank you to all who have made this special season possible. Thank you for your contribution to our artistic home.
About the Fisher Center at Bard
The Fisher Center develops, produces, and presents performing arts across disciplines through new productions and context-rich programs that challenge and inspire. As a premier professional performing arts center and a hub for research and education, the Fisher Center supports artists, students, and audiences in the development and examination of artistic ideas, offering perspectives from the past and present as well as visions of the future. The Fisher Center demonstrates Bard’s commitment to the performing arts as a cultural and educational necessity. Home is the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Frank Gehry and located on the campus of Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Fisher Center offers outstanding programs to many communities, including the students and faculty of Bard College, and audiences in the Hudson Valley, New York City, across the country, and around the world. Building on a 163-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders.
The Center presents more than 200 world-class events and welcomes 50,000 visitors each year. The Fisher Center supports artists at all stages of their careers and employs more than 300 professional artists annually. The Fisher Center is a powerful catalyst for art-making regionally, nationally, and worldwide. Every year it produces 8 to 10 major new works in various disciplines. Over the past five years, its commissioned productions have been seen in more than 100 communities around the world. During the 2018–2019 season, six Fisher Center productions toured nationally and internationally. In 2019, the Fisher Center won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical for Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma!, which began its life in 2007 as an undergraduate production at Bard and was produced professionally in the Fisher Center’s SummerScape Festival in 2015 before transferring to New York City.
For more information, please contact Blake Zidell of Blake Zidell & Associates at [email protected] or 917.572.2943.
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