Dance: `Bees and Friends'
BRATTLEBORO — Farms, food, community, connection, live music, and the graceful art of ballet. This is what Vermont's Farm to Ballet is all about. For the third summer season of the project, the lead role of the farmer will be danced by Avi Waring, a Vermont native and homesteader who lives on seventeen acres in Wolcott where she raises goats, chickens, and has a garden with her partner Kee and son Jas.
On Aug. 12, Farm to Ballet will be presented at Brattleboro's Retreat Farm. The Retreat Farm is both a new nonprofit and a historic farm and has been a vibrant and important part of Brattleboro since 1836. For most of its history, it provided food, fuel, and work for the patients of the Brattleboro Retreat. Late in the last century, changes in mental health practice, food service, and government policy eroded the viability of the farm for the Brattleboro Retreat. In 2001, the Windham Foundation took ownership of the property, joining forces with the Brattleboro Retreat, the Vermont Land Trust, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to preserve forever the remaining 612 acres of farm and forested land, the iconic farm structures, and the farm's founding principles. In 2015, the new nonprofit, Retreat Farm Ltd. was born. They are working to restore the farm and create a center for conservation, education, recreation, and sustainable enterprise in southern Vermont.
Waring has danced in the production since it began in 2015 and is excited to take on a new artistic role of farmer which reflects her everyday life on the farm. "I feel like there is a set of rhythms that farming presents which is a lot like Farm to Ballet," she explained. "I find the farm cycle of spring planting, summer tending, and fall harvesting so fulfilling, and I am excited to express that through dance."
Her son Jas is part of the cast for the first time this year and dances the role of a goat. "I love the rhythm of gardening and being connected to the seasons. Vermont is an amazing place to live and eat because there is so much great healthy locally grown food. We are very lucky to be surrounded by the array of locally and artistically grown food that Vermont has to offer." The performances serve as fundraisers to support and honor the work of local farmers and conservation organizations. Last year, the project raised over $23,000.
Farm to Ballet is the brainchild of former professional dancer and Vermont native Chatch Pregger who dreamed up the project after teaching adult ballet classes in an outdoor setting. The production will be presented at eight farms throughout Vermont and includes new venues this year, including farms in the Northeast Kingdom. The ballet is set to music including Vivaldi and Swan Lake, tells the story of a Vermont farming operation from spring to fall. Pregger says his interest in local food production is what motivated him to take on this project. "I am a ballet dancer — not a farmer — but I think healthy food production is crucial to a healthy society." The show takes place without the traditional staging, lights, or backdrop of a theater-based performance. Audiences will enjoy the pastoral setting of the farm, animals, equipment, live music, and learn more about what is involved in operating a sustainable farming operation.
Pregger's goal was to spotlight Vermont as a place where agriculture, arts and community come together, and his efforts have gained both local and national attention. In the past few years, articles and stories have been published in the Boston Globe, on National Public Radio, and on the USDA blog. Most recently, Vermont PBS and Velocity Media produced a documentary about the making of the project.
"As a farmer, I know that there are lots of struggles, but there is also an essential joy in the taking care of animals and having a relationship with plants and animals that is reflected when I perform," Waring said. For Waring, art is imitating the life which she lives each day on her Vermont farm.
Farm to Ballet is a production of Ballet Vermont which will tour a new work this fall titled, "Bees and Friends." You can learn more at their website balletvermont.org and purchase tickets for a performance of Farm to Ballet by visiting farmtoballet.org. For the Retreat Farm performance, doors open at 4:30 p.m. for farm tours, and the show starts at 6 p.m. Get your tickets today!
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