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This New York City Playwright’s First Official Video Offers Up a Fantastical Take on the Classic Ballerina Tutu

Hennessey on the New York Dolls, the costuming of Zhe Zhe, and her first video for “Sleeping Beauty.”

9/12/2019 11:41:00 AM

When Leah Hennessey starts describing some of the influences of her band’s first official video, “Sleeping Beauty,” you can tell straight away that she’s a pop culture fanatic.

Hennessey on the New York Dolls, the costuming of Zhe Zhe, and her first video for “Sleeping Beauty.”

The Invisibles, old fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty—unsurprising, given the song’s title—and deeper cuts like cult director Derek Jarman’s 1979 filmThe Tempest. If you were lucky enough to catch Hennessey’s playSlash, which she co-wrote and starred in with collaborator Emily Allan at Chinatown’s MX Gallery toward the end of last year, then you probably already clocked her skill at synthesizing a wide swath of cultural references. Hennessey and Allan’s work might touch on their obsession with BBC’s

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Sherlock, but from there they interweave sketches wherein they role-play John Lennon and Paul McCartney, or Betty and Veronica from Archie Comics. It’s sharp as a tack.The band also includes musicians E.J. O’Hara and Malachy O’Neill but is simply called Hennessey; they have a forthcoming debut EP out this fall on Velvet Elk Records. “Sleeping Beauty” is their first official video, and it flits between shots of Hennessey in a full face of gleaming silver makeup, her hair a shock of braids as she vamps in front of a metallic wall in a white tutu, to her dancing in a blazer and a T-shirt, a replica of one from

The Invisibles, almost looking like a ghost as she’s superimposed on a spooky room comprising little more than a black-and-white tiled floor and a wire bed frame. “Morrison writes a lot about the magical power of logos to control and unlock desire, and this is one of my favorite logos from his world,” Hennessey says of this

The Invisiblesreference. “Wearing it is a way of casting a spell,” she adds—which is appropriate given that she studied spirit possession and science fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. The ballet look, on the other hand, was loosely based on Toyah Wilcox’s costumes in Jarman’s

The Tempest. “I was going for a feral balletic ethereality to evoke the fairy-tale aspect of the song,” she describes. Plus, she never before had an excuse to wear a tutu.More broadly, the eerie clip feels timeless. One could just as easily place it arising out of the art community in ’70s or ’80s New York City, which feels fitting given that her stepfather is David Johansen of the New York Dolls. “He is most definitely a style idol for me,” Hennessey says of Johansen. “The integration of the exquisite and the ironic is seamless for him, which is an aspiration of mine in all areas of my life.” She doesn’t take this sort of nostalgia for a bygone New York all too seriously though. “He is always shattering that illusion either by telling me how banal things were in the past or by celebrating what’s vital and exciting now,” Hennessey says. “Whether we’re at the Women’s March or at a fucked-up performance at MX Gallery, he’s always like, ‘This is better than anything. This is better than anything that was happening when I was a kid.’”

It might be Hennessey’s first video, but she’s long been crafting dramatic outfits for public consumption via her web seriesZhe Zhe, an absurdist satire of New York City’s young artistic community that stars a fictional band composed of Hennessey, Allan, and collaborator Ruby McCollister (who, by the way, directed the “Sleeping Beauty” video). On

Zhe Zhe’s website, they describe the show’s main characters as “draggy campy ‘girls’ who would do anything for a moment in the spotlight,” and their costuming reflects this—think pink paisley blazers paired with striped trousers or leopard print faux-fur coats. “It’s always been ultrabaroque and garish,” Hennessy says. “We like to think that we popularized the ‘wig as hat’ look.”

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Hennessey toned things down withSlash, however, which sort of mirrors her IRL fashion trajectory. Allan and Hennessey wore black leotards and jazz shoes (although there were still a few wigs as hats thrown in for good measure), which Hennessy said forced a rethink of her relationship to clothing. “As someone who always depended on clothes as armor, standing in front of people in a leotard was humiliating and unmasking in a thrilling way,” she says. “It made me realize that how I move is its own outfit, and I don’t ever need to be afraid of looking too normal.”

She’s taken this to heart with her personal wardrobe, which she streamlined recently to avoid stress while managing the various projects she has going on. “When I wasn’t doing so much performance, I felt the need to wear costumes in my everyday life, but as I’ve had the opportunity to create real characters I’ve started dressing a little more casually or at least more functionally,” Hennessey says. Still, she skews toward things that are a bit more dramatic. “I always skew towards the androgynous, the anglophilic, the monochromatic, the romantic,” she says, saying that Claire Bloom’s outfits in

The Haunting, a 1963 horror film, recently made her speechless for a moment. “I had forgotten that a pleated skirt could still do that to me.” Maybe Hennessey’s own video will have the same effect on you. Only time will tell. Read more: Vogue Magazine »

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