BalletX delivers stunning world premiere |

BalletX delivers stunning world premiere

'Sidd: A Hero’s Journey' whetted the appetite for this summer’s Vail Dance Festival, July 28 through Aug. 7.
John-Ryan Lockman/Courtesy photo
Want more dance? The Vail Dance Festival takes place July 28 through Aug. 7. Tickets go on sale March 28 at

The audience at Vilar Performing Arts Center was fortunate to witness BalletX’s world premiere of “Sidd: A Hero’s Journey” Saturday night.

As Vail Dance Festival artistic director Damian Woetzel said when he took the stage to introduce BalletX:

“I could not be anywhere but here tonight.”

Eighteen months ago, VPAC dreamed up the idea of co-commissioning a piece to celebrate its 25th anniversary with BalletX, bringing in renowned choreographer Nicolo Fonte, who chose to translate Herman Hesse’s classic novel, “Siddhartha,” into dance. It’s also noteworthy that the original novel was published just over a hundred years ago, in 1922, adding another layer to the anniversary celebration.

The dance opens with a solo by the Ferryman, dressed in billowing blue, foreshadowing Sidd’s journey to enlightenment. If you didn’t know that in “Siddhartha” the ferryman guides both the river (which plays a prominent role in the story) and the path to enlightenment and teaches Siddhartha to listen deeply to the timelessness of the river, which makes Siddhartha realize that life is like a river merging past, present and future into one moment, the reason for showcasing the Ferryman in the prologue isn’t completely clear.

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But once the first scene of Act One unfolds, the characters and the story become more apparent: The Ego emerges as a compelling — and choreographic stunning — character as it torments Sidd, literally taunting and poking at him, during a family celebration and ultimately compels him to begin his hero’s journey. Intense music and energetic movement compliment the beautiful partnering between male-male and male-female pairs in the first two scenes, making it quite a wonder to watch.

When Sidd initially rejects the material world, he joins the Samanas, who follow the Buddha, brilliantly re-envisioned in this ballet as a woman dressed in golden costumery reminiscent of a mystical belly dancer. She first appears above the group, meditating in a circle, perched upon the modular set, which adds height and dimension to the entire performance (while also representing the Buddhist Eightfold Path).

Once again, The Ego dances around Sidd, vying for his attention, and it becomes particularly pronounced, and robust, when he leaves the group to pursue his own path. Fonte’s style of visceral and athletic choreography shines throughout the ballet, and this section especially highlights his ability to fuse incredibly difficult, athletic movement with intriguing pairings and groupings and gorgeous, flowing holds, lifts and passages.

The casino scene is definitely a rousing highlight of Act One, with colorful sequin dresses and even more colorful choreography. Here, Sidd learns of lust and wealth, while The Ego revels in it all.

But, eventually, Sidd tires of material trappings and becomes disgusted with himself and his life. Act One comes to completion with a visually stunning and choreographic compelling scene of dancers embodying the river in flowing blue costumes. The act ends with Sidd attempting to end his life.

Act Two begins with the River People rotating through interchanging pairings in an exquisite dance, and ultimately reviving an unconscious Sidd through the sound of OM.

In scene two, Kamala, the enchanting woman who taught him the ways of love, appears, carrying Sidd’s child. Francesca Forcella brings a tender tone through her dance as Kamala here, which contrasts with her fiery role in Act One. In this scene, Sidd’s best friend, Govinda, also reunites with Sidd in a beautifully choreographed dance.

The ballet employs artistic license using a puppet to portray Sidd’s child. Initially, it seems a little stiff and takes a willing suspension of disbelief to get into this new character, attached to dancer Eli Alford. It works best when Alford crouches to match the height of the puppet, as opposed to popping over him.

While the entire company excels in its artistry and technique, dancers Shawn Cusseaux, as Sidd, and Andrea Yorita, as The Ego, naturally stand out. Overall, Cusseaux’s athletics and grace soar, while Yorita’s elegant ability to move her body in uncanny ways (mirroring what an ego can do) is entirely captivating.

The ballet ends in the most uplifting and touching manner as Sidd tenderly reaches out, and picks up, the now-fragile Ego. It is the most emotionally stirring and poignant part of the ballet, as the two dance in a delicate peace.

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