The nerve center of any farm is the barn, and the nerve center of Farm to Ballet is its little red barn. This was definitely a situation to investigate.
So I visited with Molly Porter, a four-year dancer veteran of Farm to Ballet and an artist who made tremendous contributions to that little red barn. But first to find her in Adamant, a few miles northeast of Montpelier.
Never heard of Adamant? Neither had my GPS, evidently, since it took me to an isolated rural road and left me there to my own devices. Unknown to my GPS, Adamant does have a village center and a store. Molly rescued me from the middle of nowhere and led me to her house. And what a house it is that she built for herself!
Coming around the bend and over the hill of her long driveway, one sees a two-story wall with six huge picture windows on the second level. The story of the barn would have to wait its turn. I had to know the story of Molly’s house.
For several years, Molly had lived in a small cottage that she built on her parents’ farmland in Adamant. But it became too small to store her growing number of art canvasses, so she designed and built a house about a hundred yards away. No prefab! Once the concrete was poured, she built the house herself with only occasional help for two-person jobs, like installing heavy windows.
Top the dog, and Iris and Pearl the cats, kept us company as we ate lunch by the fire in the art room on a chilly May day. Where did Molly get the building skills? “I worked in construction part-time for about thirty years so that I could devote myself to painting,” Molly answered. “I drove a crane in Alaska and I worked on construction sites in Connecticut. And I applied for scholarships and saved my money for school and artist residencies.”
Molly completed two years at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and two years at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. Then she studied perceptual painting at the prestigious New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture for over two years. Art is still her passion and she sells her paintings at art shows.
“And I also love ballet and take several classes a week,” added Molly.
The new house has a bedroom with huge windows on two sides, giving the illusion of sleeping outside. There is a bath and kitchen, and a large art workspace that is lit by the six picture windows. Art abounds everywhere. The back door opens to a porch and Molly plans to build a greenhouse there. There’s a full basement beneath. The studio roof is a shed roof (slope roof) with the high end to the north. Solar panels generate electricity, water comes from a well, and gas for the kitchen stove comes from a canister. She puts in a vegetable garden every spring. “I always have projects going,” Molly said, “and I tend to start new ones before I finish the old.” Ah, the creative mind let loose.
An inheritance made it possible for Molly to leave the paid construction work and devote herself to art, dance, and the many projects ongoing or planned with her house.
Now back to the barn. Molly was with Farm to Ballet from the first season and remembers that first barn. “It was fun to build,” she said, “and the barn just sort of evolved piecemeal season after season. The first year the barn was made of three black boxes strapped strongly together with a seven-foot high gable,” she explained. It had a drop cloth painted red with a white window painted on it. She hauled these huge boxes back and forth in her truck on each performance day.
Since two-thirds of the dances entered from or exited to stage left where the barn was, at any time about two-thirds of the dancers would store their costumes behind the barn, make quick changes behind the barn, and wait for their next number behind the barn. It was busy there! And the trick was to stay directly behind the barn where the audience could not see you. The back of the musicians’ tent on the other side of the performance area was the other location for entrances and exits, costume changes, and dancer waits
“The barn evolved,” said Molly. “From the second season on we have used steel scaffolding that has been kindly loaned to Farm to Ballet from Got That Rental & Sales in Essex.” Two sets of scaffolding are used, each five feet wide by five feet long by seven feet tall, with cross bars for stability. It takes about an hour for three or four strong people to assemble the scaffolding, lay down the wooden roof, put the tarps in place, and erect the side fence. Disassembling the barn after each performance takes another hour. Much care must be taken not to lose any of the joints and other small pieces, especially when the sun is setting.
A second red-painted tarp was added to the first because the barn was much longer, and Molly painted a cat on it. The second and third seasons Molly also hauled the scaffolding to and from each performance in her truck and helped to assemble and disassemble it. Oh, those construction muscles! Now a trailer hitched to Chatch’s van hauls the scaffolding and various props.
“The third season I painted two dogs on the front tarp,” said Molly. “That was also the year Chatch added a pole and a rope to swing down from the barn. And the fourth season a third red tarp enclosed one side of the barn and a six-foot high fence was added to the other side.” Now it was almost, but not quite, spacious behind the barn for the dancers.
The barn has a wooden roof, securely attached, so that the rooster can safely do his arabesque turn before dismounting. The dismounts have varied over the seasons. The first season Chatch the rooster jumped down from the roof except for the one occasion when he swung onto a hay wagon. The second season Drew Grant, the guest rooster, did a front walk over from the scaffolding. Seasons three and four Chatch swung down from a rope. And this year? (I vote for a rooster ladder!)
Oh, let’s not forget the moon. Molly started working on that moon for the second season and it went through several iterations. She made those moons with wire and paper mache. Towards the end of each performance, the moon is lifted from the roof by a long wire. That moon is beautiful as it shines luminously from the rays of the setting sun.
That little red barn is an iconic setting for Farm to Ballet.
Eileen Maddocks returned to ballet when she retired and studies with Chatch Pregger. She performed with Farm to Ballet for four seasons. She is also a writer with her own publishing company that specializes in religious history.