Ballet Quad Cities is scary good, and it’s returning to the Spotlight Theatre (former Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1800 7th Ave., Moline) for the first time since 2018.

The professional dance company will present a new smorgasbord of scares, chills, thrills and hauntingly beautiful scenes with “Ghost Stories,” Friday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

A scene from the Ballet Quad Cities 2022 Halloween show at Davenport’s Outing Club.

The past couple years’ Halloween-themed productions have been at The Outing Club in Davenport, and pre-COVID, BQC was at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center in Moline in 2019.

Artistic director Courtney Lyon came up with the concepts and choreography for the darker and creepier first half, in a varied program –

  • “Werewolf in the Graveyard” — Sahsha Amaut, Eleanor Ambler, Ruby Anderson, Sierra DeYoung, Stephanie Eggers, Christian Knopp, Madeline Kreszenz, Marcus Pei, Madeleine Rhode, Kira Roberts, Mahalia Zellmer
  • “Jingle Bones” — Jillian Van Cura
  • “Enchanted Celestial Experience” — Mahalia Zellmer with Ruby Anderson and Madeline Kreszenz
  • “Sirens in the Sea” — Sirens:  Sierra DeYoung, Eleanor Ambler, Stephanie Eggers; Sailor:  Christian Knopp
  • “The Raven” – Edgar Allen Poe: Marcus Pei; Poe’s Alter Ego: Christian Knopp; The Raven:  Sahsha Amaut, Ruby Anderson, Madeline Kreszenz, Marcus Pei, Madeleine Rhode, Kira Roberts, Jillian Van Cura
  • “Retro Boogie” — Mahalia Zellmer
  • “Full Moon Finale” — Full Company

“They’re stories we all know, from urban legends – I pulled from literature, mythology,” Lyon said this week. “I wanted to hit different genres of how to tell a tale. I’m really pleased with the results. It’s not too spooky – it’s very family-friendly.”

Dancer Mahalia Zellmer in the 2022 Halloween program.

Compared to last year’s Halloween Disco Party, this weekend’s show is darker, which is ideal for the landmark, grand cathedral setting in Moline, she said. “I’m really excited for this production.”

“The dancers love being able to change personas during a performance, take on different characters,” Lyon said. “It really feeds them artistically; they enjoy it.”

After intermission will be an original 40-minute ballet of “The Headless Horseman,” choreography by Emily Kate Long, inspired by Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with music by Edward Elgar.

Ichabod Crane is danced by Christian Knopp; Katrina Van Tassel is Jillian Van Cura, and Brom Bones is Marcus Pei.

A scene from the Ballet QC 2017 “Dracula” production.

Nestled on the banks of the Hudson River is the idyllic hamlet of Tarry Town, N.Y., whose residents revel in sharing stories of ghosts, spirits, witches, and—most of all—the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, who is reported to ride through the region each night searching for his missing head. 

The local schoolmaster and hero of our story, Ichabod Crane, has a great appetite for such haunting tales, according to a synopsis. He finds himself falling head-over-heels in love with Katrina, the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Unfortunately for him, village prankster Brom Bones also has eyes for the lovely and kind-hearted Katrina—and will use any mischief necessary to make a fool of the schoolmaster.

The Spotlight Theatre is at 1800 7th Ave., Moline.

At the Van Tassels’ annual harvest gathering, the mood is celebratory, the dancing spritely, the food delicious, the gossip free-flowing, and the ghost tales wilder than ever. Our brave hero declares his love for Katrina just before departing, but is soundly refused. 

On his way home, dejected, he meets the terror of terrors on a forest road—the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. A hair-raising chase leaves poor Ichabod without hat, horse, or dignity…and all–or nearly all–the residents of Tarry Town are left forever wondering what has become of their schoolmaster.

Dancers’ perspective

Christian Knopp and Jill Van Cura are both in their third season with BQC and Marcus Pei is in his first, all thrilled to make their debut on the Spotlight stage.

Jillian Van Cura performing in the 2022 Halloween Disco program.

“It’ll be nice to have it feel a little more formal,” Van Cura said, noting they’re looking forward to the greater lighting effects at Spotlight versus the Outing Club. She is dancing the unique solo in the first act, reflecting a xylophone playing on bones.

“I’m really playing on versatility here, which I think all of us are strong on with this performance,” she said. It’s satisfying as a dancer to perform a variety of scenes, rather than a single full-length ballet, they said.

“The first act has a lot of different styles and takes on dance, and the second act is very classical, single storyline,” Pei said.

First-year BQC dancer Marcus Pei

“You’re getting to know a person that you’re playing,” Van Cura said. “I think it’s just fun to play different characters.”

“I love the variety – you’ve got a little bit of everything,” Knopp said, noting he gets to develop a full, well-rounded character in Ichabod. And in the first half he’s the sailor enchanted by three alluring mermaids.

“He’s very learned, educated,” Knopp said of Ichabod. “He’s very much in love with Katrina but he’s very superstitious. He falls for all these tall tales and superstitions.”

Third-year dancer Christian Knopp plays Ichabod Crane.

“He’s like sweet, nerdy, awkward, just wants to believe the best,” Van Cura said, noting the story is a love triangle.

“She is, I think, smarter than people expect from her. She likes attention,” she said. “But she’s more concerned with reputation.”

Brom Bones gets jealous, and Katrina is flirty and doesn’t want to hurt anyone, Van Cura said.

Pei’s role as rival for Katrina’s affections, is fun-loving on the surface, but is a villain in disguise, going out at night being evil. “It’s an interesting feeling, because you get to play the two extremes,” he said, noting he hunts Ichabod with his detached head.

Van Cura appreciates Emily Kate Long as choreographer, calling her very smart and clear in her directions.

Third-year BQC dancer Jillian Van Cura

“Working with her is satisfying and helps you get your own narrative in place at an early stage, so that moving forward in rehearsals, you feel confident making decisions character-wise,” Van Cura said. “It’s very clear and concise.”

“She is just so easy to work with,” Pei agreed.

“She’s very smart with how things need to be conveyed,” Van Cura said of telling the story through wordless movement. Long is a veteran BQC dancer herself, which helps.

Artistic associate Emily Kate Long performed with BQC from 2009 to 2018, and choreographed this weekend’s “Headless Horseman” ballet.

“She’s someone who’s been in our exact shoes,” Van Cura said.

The whole “Ghost Stories” program is not relentlessly dark, she said, noting some bright, uplifting moments here and there.

“I’d say it’s very fall-themed, especially the second act with the use of props,” Pei said. “With the harvest and pumpkin.”

Tickets for “Ghost Stories” are $30 for adults, $15 for kids 12 and under, and $70 for two at a pub table on the floor, available HERE. BQC will have an “Afterglow” party following the Saturday night show, in the Blueprint Bar & Lounge, where you can meet the dancers.