Follow a vegan priest into the world of “Cult of Color: Call to Color”


In the elaborate ballet “Cult of Color: Call to Color,” sheltered vegans journey into the world of color, facing battles of good and evil. Photo courtesy of Barbara Shack.

In a black and white underworld, a vegan priest named Sesom will be leading seven disciples on a voyage to bring color to their lives in the ballet, “Cult of Color: Call to Color.” 

A collaborative effort, “Cult to Color: Call to Color” was created by choreographer Stephen Mills, visual artist Trenton Doyle Hancock and composer Graham Reynolds. 

“It took place over a three year period from the beginning conversations in August of 2005 to the premiere in April of 2008,” said Michelle Martin, associate artistic director at Ballet Austin. “That length of time is really a reflection between the contributing artists.” 

In two acts, common vegans live in an underground world without color led by Sesom, who dreams of color. Sesom is met by an extraordinary creature named Painter who shows him a life of meat and color. Sesom returns underground to recruit disciples for his Cult of Color. Seven enlist, but one, Betto, resists the cult. After battles between good and evil ensue, Betto joins the Cult of Color. Or does he? 

Reynolds, musician and composer of the ballet’s score, said the process of constructing the story, music and choreography was delicate at times. 

“Our first question for the process was, how are we going to do this?,” Reynolds said. “Who would go first? We already knew a little bit about who was going to go first because Trenton’s world of ‘Cult of Color: Call to Color’ had existed since he was seven when he started drawing these characters. Trenton made a comic book with his own characters, his own superheroes.”

Jaime Lynn Witts, a Ballet Austin company dancer who plays the role of Painter, said that working with Trenton’s world of “Cult of Color: Call to Color” has been unlike any other show at Ballet Austin. 

“It’s definitely much more theatrical so I’ve had to attempt to physically manifest what Painter is supposed to be and what I’m trying to say,” Lynn Witts said. “Working with Trenton, who is so passionate about his story, his characters and his art, I’ve been trying to shape something that is so different than trying to be a character that every ballerina has played since the 1800s.”

Lynn Witts said she enjoys playing Painter because the character is challenging while enjoyable.

“Painter is like a superhero kind of character,” Lynn Witts said. “When you’re a child and you think of ballerinas as pink tights and tutus, then you go to seeing this, it’s just so cool because we use our bodies and the music in a really different way.”

Martin said the physicality of this ballet is different from the movements of other more classical ballets. Martin said the dancers were complaining of sore muscles after a few rehearsals due to the unusual choreography. 

Preston Andrew Patterson, a Ballet Austin company dancer playing the role of Betto’s disciple, said “Cult of Color: Call to Color” gives the dancers a new experience musically as well as physically. 

“The first time I heard the music I just loved it.” Patterson said. “It’s very funky and inspiring so I thoroughly enjoy dancing to it because the dancers just come to life.” 

Reynolds said working with a ballet can evoke really exciting works in composers. Working with musical logic and then applying it to the narrative logic of a ballet pulls composers out of boxes that makes them try things they never would have. 

“I’ve longed to work with visual art,” Reynolds said. “When I’m collaborating with someone I try to translate the ideas to what it would be musically, so just looking at the art, hearing the ideas and reading the text is inspiring.”