Farm to Ballet unites classical music with dance in the unlikely space of Vermont farm fields across the state all summer long.
If the idea of sitting outdoors on a blanket, sipping wine, and eating local, farm-fresh food while watching Vivaldi’s Four Seasons ballet sounds like a perfect way to spend a Vermont summer evening, you’d be right.
Farm to Ballet is the brainchild of Artistic Director Charles “Chatch” Pregger, 37, a classically trained dancer and ballet instructor who has danced with the Boston, Washington, and Houston ballets. Now in its third season, this unique blending of art and agriculture runs Saturdays and Sundays, July 15 – August 13, at eight farms across the Green Mountain State. Each show benefits an agricultural nonprofit by supporting farms with their sustainability efforts.
Soloist and sixth-generation Vermonter Kyla Paul, who’s been dancing for 20 of her young 24 years, says each new venue is a challenge. “We never quite know what the terrain will be like,” she says. “Will the grass be slippery or scratchy? Will there be sticker bushes? Cow patties? Once we had to dance in a field that had just been bush-hogged, so there were lots of holes that we had to maneuver around. A stage is easy and predictable; I like this better.”
Paul, who performed the role of Pig in last summer’s production, will be donning a plaid shirt and straw hat this season as she portrays the Farmer. All told, the event includes 25 dancers and many more volunteers who help pull off a delightful blend of dance, music, good food, and community.
While attendees listen to a string sextet perform Vivaldi’s score, and watch as the dancers help Paul’s farmer tell the story of growth on a Vermont farm from spring through fall, they can dine from local food trucks or on bounty straight from the farm itself. Some shows will have local spirits on hand, although guests can BYOB as well.
The story begins with geese returning to the farm in spring. As the planting begins, the dancers irrigate, tend, and harvest the crops while pigs and cows and chickens join in celebration of life on a farm. A traditional farm share closes the ballet as the geese fly south for the winter.
For Pregger, seeing amateur dancers perform alongside the professionals is immensely gratifying. “For those who came to dance as adults, a professional career is closed to them,” he says, “but with this they do get a taste of their dream and can live the life of a ballerina for a summer.”
Pregger has been surprised by the social connection between dance and community. “For most of my life, I thought of dance as being solely for the sake of art, which is great, but I now realize that ballet can be more accessible and helpful,” he says. “My art is now contributing to my value system, and that’s been unexpectedly amazing.”
Funds from past productions have gone to the Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Feed’s Jr. Iron Chef and Rural Vermont, among others. The farms use the revenue they receive for a variety of programs. Golden Well Farm & Apiaries, for instance, used its share to plant a pick-your-own berry patch.