BalletX capped off their home season at the Wilma Theater with a premiere run of choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s ‘Sidd: A Hero’s Journey’ a dance-theater adaptation of Hermann Hesse’s 1921 novel ‘Siddhartha.’ This is Fonte’s fourth premiere with BalletX, ‘Sidd’ one of his most ambitious along with first work with the company in 2013 ‘Beautiful Decay.’
Hesse was a German writer and his famous’1921 novel set in India while still under the oppressive control of British colonialism. In comments before the performance, Fonte addressed the inescapable issue of cultural appropriation. Fonte adapting the story hoping to make it a universally symbolic narrative for the dance stage, but still the use of Indian cultural imagery in his choreography in employed, so viewers will undoubtedly have different reactions.
To adapt the story for the dance stage, Fonte’s alchemy with fiery balletics, in depth character narratives, and respectful evocations from yogic, Hindu, and Buddhist dance liturgy, The full cast of 14 is in top form with Fonte’s fusionist styles, with several of the roles alternated during the run.
The curtain comes up on an eight- tiered modular staircase, as the Ferryman (Jared Kelly) dances a dance a solo prologue. The story unfolds at a family gathering where Sidd (Shawn Cusseaux) announces that he wants to leave his parents and their lives of privilege to find his own way in the world. He has also fallen in love with Govinda (Ashley Simpson) and they both become enamored with worshipers who reject materialism. But soon he becomes disillusioned and leaves the commune, still determined to must choose his own path. The Ferryman who takes him across the river where he is seduced by the wiles of fast nightlife of money, booze, sex, and lots of dance bacchanalia..
He falls in lust with showdancer Kamala (Francesca Forcella) who they dive into the casino nightlight, party hard where his wins big and loses bigger and is so lost in the hurls himself into the waters. He washes up on shore where his is revived by the River People and he embarks on the journey to his spiritual awakening and purpose.
Act-two opens with the dancers in a bridge’s chanting ohm in chanting ohm in and eventually everyone sees in the shadows of the bridge, Sidd has washed up on shore. He is passed out, and dreams of Kamala, now pregnant and dancing an anguishing solo. Later, Sidd indeed meets his child.
Fonte covers a lot of plot and character exposition, (especially in Act I) but on balance the ballet has a powerful and sustained theatrical arc . Fonte worked with London-based theater director Nancy Meckler structuring its 12 scenes.
Fonte matches that choreographic range with a mosaic of music including pastorals, meditations, orchestral, cinematic, and ambient music composers including Thomas Ades, Olafur Arnalds, The Silk Road Ensemble, Anna Phoebe & Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres, Max Richter,
Shawn Cusseaux performance as Sidd is a breakthrough after several strong performances with the company in the past few years. Andrea Yorita portrays The Ego, Sidd’s shadow presence who puts him at cross-purposes with his spiritual path.
Fine supporting performances by Ashley Simpson and Francesca Forcella as Sidd’s lovers. And the ensemble cast particularly impressive in both the range of dance idioms Fonte creates in some of the more crowded narrative scenes.
Skyler Lubin in the dual role as Sidd’s mother and as Buddha (dancing with a radiant gold veil over her face) and Peter Weil (guest soloist from Philadelphia Ballet) as his father.
Eli Alford is the dancer who animates a puppet of Sidd’s Son created by Sebastienne Mundheim in one of the ballet’s most touching scenes. Jared Kelly’s incantatory performance as The Ferryman captivates throughout. He is costumed in a in a blue shell bodice and billowing panels that flare out hypnotically as spins over the tiered staircase and stage. It is the first of dozens of costumes created by Mark Eric for the production. They range from the button-up suits by Sidd’s parents, garish casino drag, mystical iridescent silks, and richly detailed fantasy pieces.
Michael Korsch’s set and lighting designs are impressive, starting with that moveable staircase that evokes land and seascapes, and spiritual realm in tandem with shadowy, dimensional lighting designs.
For Yorita and Cusseaux, Fonte has created their unique choreography as interior windows to Sidd’s war within his spiritual journey- for Yorita and Cusseaux their technical prowess and artistic agency is breathtaking. Their final standoff an inspired catharsis from every angle.
Andrea Yorita has danced in 70 BalletX premieres in her 11 seasons as a company member, and this final role as Sidd’s nemesis will be remembered as one her most indelible artistic triumphs.
BalletX is back on the road this summer with tour dates at Colorado’s Vail Dance Festival