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Nicolo Fonte on ‘Sidd: A Hero’s Journey’

In this BalletX interview, Nicolo Fonte discusses the inspiration, challenges, and themes of his 2023 full-length world premiere, ‘Sidd: A Hero’s Journey’.

What drew you to adapt the book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse?

When Christine Cox (Artistic & Executive Director of BalletX) approached me with this commission, she was keen for me to create a piece with a strong narrative. The book Siddhartha popped into my head – I felt that it’s interesting characters, beautiful imagery, and sense of movement could translate well to ballet. I was also attracted to Siddhartha’s journey as he attempts to reach spiritual transformation. I have always found the idea of spiritual transformation to be a very compelling concept.  In some ways, all my work has to do with that idea.  It’s gratifying to tackle it in such an overt, literal way with this particular ballet.

What are the challenges of transforming a book into a ballet?

The biggest challenge is to find freedom from absolute authenticity and faithfulness to the original narrative, while also keeping the story recognizable. Sidd: A Hero’s Journey is inspired by the book which has never been made into a ballet before, and it’s important for the audience to remember that it’s an adaptation. For example, in the book, one of the main themes follows Siddhartha trying to rid himself of his small self in order to unite with the universal Self. In the ballet, I interpret that small self as his ego, and I created a character to represent that concept. In the book, it’s just Siddhartha battling his own ego. But in the ballet, the ego is an actual external force (a dancer) representing his desires and temptations.

What are major themes that you are exploring in this work?

The main theme is really self-transformation. We follow Siddhartha on his hero’s journey as he rejects all material possessions, then finds wealth only to lose it and finally discovers he has a son only to be rejected by him, as he himself fled from his own father. These experiences awaken him to the understanding that life is like a river. There’s no beginning and no end. It just keeps going. He comes to the realization that it’s our job to find peace within ourselves, and to uncover and rediscover who we are at our essence.

Where are you setting the ballet, in both time and location?

The ballet is set in a sort of anywhere, anytime. That was a creative choice – I wanted to drill down to just the themes of this book, and discovering ways to express those ideas through dance. I worked closely with Nancy Meckler, who served as Artistic Collaborator on this piece. Working with Nancy not only helped me to form the synopsis for the ballet but also to see the universality of this story, and the understanding that self-transformation and spiritual awakening can happen anywhere and everywhere. It is an inward journey manifested outwardly.  

How are you incorporating scenery into the storytelling process?

There is a fabulous set in the ballet designed by Set and Lighting Designer, Michael Korsch. Michael and I both wanted something that could create different environments on stage to enhance the idea of a journey. Michael devised the set to be modular, constantly moving and changing along with our hero. The set is physically manipulated by the dancers, and it becomes part of the choreography. It’s really the 13th member of the cast.

Don’t miss the Philadelphia premiere of Nicolo Fonte’s ‘Sidd: A Hero’s Journey’, July 12-23 at The Wilma Theater. Purchase Summer Series tickets today!