Vilar Performing Arts Center celebrates 25 years with a world premiere from BalletX
- What: BalletX performs “Sidd: A Hero’s Journey”
- When: 7 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek
- Tickets: Start at $68 (students, $25; ticket four-pack, $200)
- Also: BalletX will perform a STARS education series at 12:30 p.m. Friday for a suggested age range of third- to sixth-graders (tickets $12 students; $15 adults). It will feature the first act of “Sidd.”
- More info: VilarPAC.org
BalletX, Philadelphia’s leading contemporary ballet company, presents “Sidd: A Hero’s Journey” on Saturday evening at the Vilar Performing Art Center in Beaver Creek. Co-commissioned by the Vilar and BalletX, the full-length, world-premiere ballet is part of the Vilar’s 25th-anniversary celebration.
Throughout the years, BalletX has made a huge impact with its performances at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater during the Vail Dance Festival, as well as debuting at the Vilar in 2019. The company is known for commissioning renowned choreographers worldwide to create innovative works. In its 17-year history, it has produced nearly 100 world premieres and over 25 dance films by more than 60 choreographers.
This year’s piece showcases choreographer Nicolo Fonte, who’s known for his daring and original approach to dance through a unique movement language, in addition to a fusion of ideas and design.
Fonte delivers a fresh take on Herman Hesse’s classic novel, “Siddhartha,” which follows Sidd’s adventurous journey as he seeks enlightenment. Even as he meets the Buddha, who invites him to follow, Sidd says he must find his own path. Within it, he experiences monetary loss, gain and loss, attempts to rid himself of ego and discovers that enlightenment is, indeed, found within.
“I wanted to create a narrative work because BalletX doesn’t often do narrative works; it usually just does contemporary works. This is specifically like storytelling,” Fonte said. “The audience will be surprised at the clarity of the storytelling. It’s all really clear, and yet there are no words spoken; you see that it’s happening.”
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Fonte worked with dramaturg Nancy Meckler, pouring through every scene of the ballet to clarify what it would accomplish and how it served the overall narrative.
“We had to simplify the story because dance, in general, is not the best way to express complex ideas. It cheapens the complexity of the subject, and the dance may very well be boring or incomprehensible,” he said.
Sidd’s ego plays a prominent character in the ballet (as opposed to the book, where the ego is merely a concept). A group of dancers also embody a river, which plays an essential part in both the book and the ballet. And, though the book takes place in India, the ballet does not — there’s even a casino scene, in which Sidd gambles, and it pays off, for a while.
“I take a lot of freedom to reinterpret the book. I use the word ‘reinterpret’ because I’m not trying to do it verbatim — the book already exists,” Fonte said. “It’s about a universal essence that I was interested in. You can’t live without an ego. You need to learn to tame your ego, or else your ego can destroy you, but you also cannot rid yourself of your own ego. The idea is to find peace with your ego.”
Once Fonte created all of the scenes, he chose music from his enormous library, working with conductor Beatrice Affron to further zero in on the perfect score.
Watch an interview with co-founder of BalletX and “Vail Valley Live’s Meredith Kirkman to learn more about the collaboration here.
Fonte partnered with set and lighting designer Michael Korsch to imbue the story with even greater meaning and reflect the theme of transformation: The modular set, which creates different heights and settings, folds in eight different ways, to reflect the Buddhist Eightfold Path, which encourages people to turn away from extremes and seek a simple approach to right understanding, intent, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.
Fonte’s choreography tends to be “very visceral and athletic,” he said. “I like big dancing, but I also like getting to the core, the essence, and that means relationships on stage. I want the audience to fall in love with our hero, to root for him in overcoming all of his obstacles.”
And, through the ballet, Sidd comes full circle.
“It’s kind of a homecoming,” Fonte said. “He sets out on a journey and realizes: ‘I’ve been rejecting everything around me to find myself, and now I realize that I have to engage with the world to really discover who I may be.’ The spiritual path is not one of rejection, but one of inclusion.”
In the end, Fonte wants audiences to walk away with feelings of joy, satisfaction and hope, realizing that “there is still beauty in the world.”
“It ends on a very positive note. It ends hopeful, and it embraces love and enlightenment kind of at the same time. It’s a highly philosophical concept, so it had to be stripped down, but you still get that sense that we’re more than the sum of our parts. As human beings, we are part of the animal kingdom, but we aspire to the heavens,” he said, adding that when Sidd’s life comes crashing down, he realizes he’s “just human, and it’s a beautiful thing … It’s interesting to talk about it. It sounds like I’m pontificating, that I’m a philosopher, but, in the end, I’m always super aware that I’m a choreographer and that my job is to make an interesting and entertaining dance work. I worked hard (at that). There’s a lot of content — highs, lows, humor, big brash dancing and very subtle complex emotions being expressed. It’s also an entertaining night out.”