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Ballet troupe brings moving art to the farm

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 10 December 2015
ballerina

After experiencing the joys of dancing outdoors instead of in a studio, one ballet company in Vermont decided to take their performance not only outside but to local farms as well.

This group of amateur and professional dancers is using ballet to tell the story of agriculture in a creative, unconventional manner.

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The project, called Farm to Ballet, first started in September 2014, and its participants gave their first performance Aug. 1, 2015. Artistic director and dancer Chatch Pregger compiled scenes from other ballets and replaced the characters with farm animals or farmers to weave together a new ballet that tells the story of agriculture.

See photos of their performance in this slideshow.

In all, the group performed the agriculture-themed ballet seven times. Each performance took place at a different farm. With the exception of one performance, the proceeds from each event went to a different non-profit organization.

The proceeds from the group’s final event went toward the dancer scholarship fund at Spotlight Vermont and Farm to Ballet 2016. In all, they raised $12,000 for other organizations and performed to a couple thousand people.

Each performance had from 150 to 500 attendees. Some of the performances were low-key with audience members bringing a picnic dinner to enjoy during the performance. Others were grander, with local companies showcasing their boutique agriculture products.

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Katie Decker, a dancer in Farm to Ballet and one of the project’s coordinators, says partnering with the non-profit organizations was one of her favorite aspects of the project.

“That was a cool thing because they got to see into our world and we got to see into their world,” Decker says. “We were promoting events that they were doing … and at the same time they were promoting us and ballet. That, to me, felt like one of the more magical components of it. It was the uniting of our art and agricultural communities, which have quite a bit of overlap in Vermont. That felt like a win-win.”

ballet dancerBy bringing the ballet to the farm, they were able to bring ballet to audiences who might not have seen it otherwise. Children, who might not have sat through a theater performance, were free to play and dance right along with the ballet.

“Kids were completely enraptured by it,” Decker says. “That felt like an unexpected, awesome thing. They sat still and watched the whole show from beginning to end or were just dancing in the field next to the show, which was also awesome.”

Paul de la Bruere, owner of de la Bruere Organic Dairy, hosted the final performance at Von Gal Farms in Essex, Vermont, which he rents each summer.

As a dairy producer, he appreciated the group’s effort to connect with agriculture and bring people back to the farm. The event gave him the opportunity to show off his 50-cow dairy operation and share with people where their milk comes from.

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He gave hayrides before the performance and took attendees all over his pastures, explaining his rotational grazing system. After the performance, attendees could milk a cow and bottle-feed his 15 calves.

He says attendees said they enjoyed hearing the cows mooing during the performance.

“The farm setting was a real complement to the ballet. When you watch a cow out in a pasture grazing, you see a very docile beautiful creature of God. Ballet is also very graceful and beautiful.”

He felt they did an excellent job portraying agriculture through movement and dance. In fact, he found it “fascinating how they could do that with ballet. I thought it was fantastic. I loved it.”

Pregger says watching the performers’ reaction to the crowds’ applause was one of his favorite aspects of the show. A majority of the all-volunteer cast were amateur performers and had never experienced that before. Decker, too, enjoyed that aspect of the performances.

ballet dancersShe recalls when one of the older dancers went up to take her bow after the second show. The audience went crazy applauding her and recognizing all of the hard work she put in to the performance. The look of joy on her face is one of Decker’s fondest memories.

Pregger says they plan to perform the ballet again in 2016; however, he is modifying it so people who saw the performance last year will see a different show next year. In addition, they hope to add a couple more performances and venues in 2016.  PD

PHOTO 1: In one scene of the ballet, the cow runs away from the farmer. The choreography and music in this scene is actually taken from the Little Red Riding Hood scene in the ballet Sleeping Beauty. The cow played the part of Little Red Riding Hood while the farmer played the wolf and chased the cow around the stage.

PHOTO 2:  Both professional and amateur ballet dancers perfumed in the ballet. A majority of the soloists were professional ballet dancers. 

PHOTO 3: All ballets have a dream scene in them. In this ballet, Pregger used the dream scene to set up the story. The ballet starts with the farmer alone and as she falls into her dream the farm comes to life. During this scene the farmer plans out her year and how she will lay out her farm. Photos by Tim Barden.

Jenna Hurty
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