“Cultivating” New Audiences for Ballet—One Vermont Farm at a Time

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Farm-and-ballet

Ballerina Megan Stearns dancing the lead role in Vermont’s Farm to Ballet project / U.S. Department of Agriculture

August 11, 2016; Minneapolis Star Tribune

Many artists and arts organizations welcome the opportunity to perform al fresco during the summer months. But not many dance companies can say they develop original, agriculture-inspired works of ballet and perform them on actual farms. In Vermont, the Farm to Ballet Project, under the leadership of dancer Chatch Preggar, is nearing the end of its second season of performances. What began as a thought experiment and the desire of one class of amateur dancers to spend a little time working outdoors has blossomed into a well-received touring arts initiative that benefits local farmers and agricultural nonprofit groups.

Preggar danced with the Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet, and Houston Ballet before becoming a dance teacher with Spotlight Vermont, a performing arts school. But he also has a passion for local farming, and the Farm to Ballet Project has allowed him to connect the not-so-obvious dots between dance and agriculture. The project supports the farming community because 75 percent of ticket sales from each performance go to the host farm or to agriculture-related nonprofits. Local farm products are highlighted in other ways, too. For example, at a recent performance, “many in the 300-plus audience of adults and children also enjoyed dinner beforehand made from locally grown ingredients.”

According to the state website, “Agriculture lives at the core of Vermont’s culture, its heritage, and its economy. Vermont agriculture provides thousands of local jobs and contributes more than $281 million to Vermont’s Gross Domestic Product every year.” So perhaps the locals don’t need a hard sell to support local farmers, but it sure sounds like they enjoy the opportunity to gather in open spaces and watch dancers dressed as “lettuce, tomatoes, bees, a cow, pig or farmer”—all enacting the growing season.

The hope of Preggar and the dancers is that this experience will make participants feel welcome at more traditional ballet performances, too, once Vermont’s ever-so-brief summer ends and arts events move back indoors. 

For NPQ readers who can’t make it to one of the remaining 2016 Farm to Ballet performances this month, it’s worth spending a few minutes vicariously enjoying the fruits of this year’s labors through the magic of video. —Eileen Cunniffe