Farm to Ballet

Highgate farmer hosts agriculture-based arts performance

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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ESSEX/HIGHGATE — There are few scenarios in which a ballet performance is interrupted by a cow mooing – and that interruption is welcomed.

But the animal’s noise – which came at a perfectly timed break in music – was not out of place at a Farm to Ballet show on Sunday, Aug. 23. The performance, hosted by the Von Gal Farm in Essex Junction and its farmer, Paul de la Bruere, of Highgate, was a one-of-a-kind ballet that was created by Vermonter and dancer Chatch Pregger.

“I’ve always been excited about food,” said Pregger, who grew up in Fair Haven and who is a professional ballet dancer and instructor. When thinking of ideas for creating a performance for his students at Spotlight Vermont in South Burlington, he landed on that topic.

“I wanted to honor the people that craft food,” said Pregger. “[I thought], let’s tell a farm story.”

That story came to life with dancers acting as geese, an apple tree, lettuce leafs, tomatoes, cucumbers, goats, a cow, a pig, chickens, farmers, and – Pregger’s role – a weathervane rooster.

“It starts with the geese returning home,” said Pregger. “The story follows through the farmer planting the farm, growing, irrigating…the farmer works with the animals.”

In the fall, the geese return home and the farmer picks up the harvest. “At the end, we have a celebrative CSA pick-up scene,” said Pregger.

All the dances, choreographed as a mixture between traditional ballets with modern twists, were accompanied by classical music played on an electric violin and electric keyboard.

The hour-long ballet, performed Sunday in front of about 100 people, has been hosted at seven different farms around the state throughout the month of August. Food is also incorporated into each event, served via food trucks, picnics or the farm itself.

The show at Von Gal’s, the last for 2015, was set against Sunday’s evening sky and mountains on the horizon. The Lazy Farmer local food truck was selling burgers and fries, and the ballet was held on a makeshift event space that is attached to a barn and sits right over some cows.

Those cows belonged to de la Bruere, a farmer from Highgate. Dairy farming since 1993, de la Bruere transitioned to organic in 2006, and at that point, he needed more grazing land than his 30 acres in Highgate could offer. That’s when he found the Von Gal Farm.

“The land was just being used for hay,” said de la Bruere. The summer of 2009, de la Bruere moved his 75 cows – 50 of which are milkers – to Essex Junction, and he hasn’t left since.

“This is our sixth year,” he said.

De la Bruere explained that the barn at Von Gal’s has been an event space ever since the three-story building’s roof collapsed during a heavy snowstorm in February 2011. Hurricane Irene came several months later.

No equipment had been damaged, but the floor needed to be sealed for de la Bruere to continue selling his milk. Otherwise, the barn was beyond repair.

“The idea came, let’s just clean it up and have a party,” said de la Bruere. “Everybody loved it.”

After that, the barn was fixed so that it became both an event space and place to actively house cows. They are below while an open floor and a covered area are above.

Weddings, parties, and now Farm to Ballet, have all been hosted there. De la Bruere, who gave hayrides and let his cows in throughout Sunday evening, said he liked to see more and more people interacting with the farm through events like the ballet.

“I think we have a generation that is coming up that doesn’t have the connection with the farm,” said de la Bruere. “Farm to Ballet is perfect because it connects the two.”

While waiting for the ballet performance to start, a number of people, young and older, were wandering around the farm and watching the cows come in, petting some friendly goats, hopping on de la Bruere’s tractor-towed hay wagon and looking out over the grazed land.

Pregger expressed similar feelings as de la Bruere. “Arts and agriculture movements coming together is something people are really excited about. I think arts and agriculture are kind of good bedfellows.”

He added that they are similar in a way, artists and farmers. They both make adjustments, changes and improvements as they do their work.

“You get your harvest – hopefully it’s good,” said Pregger.

That seemed to be the case for Farm to Ballet. The event found plenty of farm and food partners to put on the show this summer, and Pregger said the performance would be done once again in 2016.

It’s not hard to see why. On Sunday, the audience was held captive by their locally-sourced food, the plant- , farm- and animal-costumed dancers, the music, the warm evening air, the mountains, and, of course, the occasional moo.