At the Ballet

Cult of Color: Call to Color

The Art of Trenton Doyle Hancock

One of Ballet Austin's most innovative collaborations. In a most unusual ballet in two acts, we take a mythological journey with Sesom, a vegan priest who is thrust into an epic voyage to bring color to the black and white underworld. Trenton Doyle Hancock's comic book-style characters intrigue and enthrall with humorous, original choreography by Artistic Director Stephen Mills and an equally outrageous and inventive score from composer Graham Reynolds. Choreographer, writer, composer and visual artist come together in a creative alliance that is sure to leave audiences delighted and exhilarated.

Choreography by Stephen Mills
Story & Visual by Trenton Doyle Hancock
Music by Graham Reynolds

Schedule for Encore

Encore - our post-show discussion - will follow the 8pm performances on March 28, 29 and 30. Join Graham Reynolds and Trenton Doyle Hancock after each of these shows, with Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills joining them on March 28 and 30. We invite you stay after the show to hear their thoughts on the work.

There will be no late seating for this production.

AustinVentures StudioTheater
Thurs Mar 28 8pm                  Thurs Apr 4 6:30pm
Fri Mar 29 8pm                       Fri Apr 5 8pm
Sat Mar 30 3pm                      Sat Apr 6 8pm
Sat Mar 30 8pm (Sold Out)     Sun Apr 7 3pm
Sun Mar 31 3pm                     Sun Apr 7 6:30pm

All tickets $50.


Cult of Color: Call to Color follows the story of Sesom, a vegan priest who is thrust upon an epic journey to bring color to the black and white underworld of vegan society.
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Story & Visual by Trenton Doyle Hancock
Original Score by Graham Reynolds
AustinVentures StudioTheater
Mar 28 - 30 | Apr 4 - 7

Program Notes


Act I
Common Vegans live in an underground world without color. In a dark cave, the priest Sesom is in bed, dreaming of color when the mighty goddess Painter enters. Painter and Sesom search through a colorful forest and meet Mound #1. Painter disappears. Sesom responds to the colors emanating from Mound #1. Mound #1 gives Sesom some Mound meat. Sesom exhilarates in the joy of the discovery of color. Returning underground, he recruits disciples for the Cult of Color. Three Vegans, Paul, Anthony, and Bow-Headed Lou, are drinking at a bar of bones. Sesom entices them with Mound meat and the promise of color. The new disciples and Sesom meet and recruit Baby Curt and Shy Jerry. TB and F-Shine are convinced to join the Cult. Only Betto Watchow  resists joining the Cult. Sesom enlists the rest of the Cult to coerce Betto, and they succeed! Sesom and the other disciples depart. Betto reveals that he has not succumbed to the Cult of Color after all. Sesom and the disciples begin milking Mound #1, celebrating as their buckets fill. Betto keeps to the edge, observing the others. The disciples return underground to construct a Miracle Machine and feed it the Mound meet. The intense colors and sounds draw more and more Vegans toward the Miracle Machine. Eggs begin to pour forth, some of which transform into Color Babies. The Vegans enthrone Sesom as their Messiah of Color and fail to notice Betto skulking away.
Act II
The Miracle Machine changes as Betto puts the finishing touches on its transformation. Betto removes his white skin to reveal black skin underneath. He wrenches black eggs from the machine, which sputters and coughs. Betto places the eggs around the stage. The Cult of Color emerges, and Sesom observes from his throne. The Vegans notice the darkness eggs in their midst. Sesom is attacked as the egg transforms into a Darkness Baby. The other darkness eggs transform and attack the Vegans, overpowering them. In the midst of the massacre, Sesom escapes and mournfully looks for Mound #1 in the darkened forest. Painter emerges, lighting the forest with color. The Bone Throne, with Betto upon it, is paraded in by Darkness Babies, celebrating their triumph. Painter vanquishes the Darkness Babies, and Betto is removed from the throne. Painter and Sesom force Betto to join them, and he submits. Sesom and Painter are satisfied that Betto has renounced his heresy and joined the Cult of Color. Or has he?

Main Characters
Betto Watchow
Bow-Headed Lou
Baby Curt
Shy Jerry
Color Babies
Darkness Babies
Compiled from The Trenton Doyle Handbook (published by Picturebox, Inc.), St. Sesom and the Cult of Color, and various interviews with the artist
Painter is a mothering, loving spirit energy that represents hope and tolerance within the universe. She is synonymous with color, and her energy is visible as a rainbow of colors. Colors are a result of Painter’s presence.
Sesom was a free-thinking Vegan priest with the mission to introduce Vegankind to the concept of color. Sesom was the world’s first good Vegan.
Betto had five brains, and therefore, possessed a super Vegan intellect. Betto was a productive member of the Cult of Color and produced important tools, such as Miracle Machines, for the group. Miracle Machines ran on Mound meat and were capable of producing blasts of color so strong that they can be seen even by the unconverted.
Paul, Anthony, and Bow-Headed Lou were three Vegan priests who became disillusioned with the Priesthood and its teachings. After leaving the Priesthood, they became drinking buddies, were discovered by Sesom in a bar, and were recruited as disciples into the Cult of Color.
Baby Curt and Shy Jerry were twin brothers who were born attached at the face, sharing one smallish brain between the two of them. When they were separated, Baby Curt ended up with most of the already too-small brain, leaving Shy Jerry with a bit of grey matter the size of an almond. They were incapable of speech and focus, and were deemed unreachable by the Priesthood. The siblings were eventually discovered and recruited as disciples into the Cult of Color by Sesom, who was the first outside Vegan to be able to reach these two.
TB and F-Shine were two disillusioned Vegan youth counselors who had the specific role of chiseling the words “YOU DESERVE LESS” over and over again into the cave walls with a piece of sharpened, petrified tofu. The two Vegans were soon discovered by Sesom and recruited as disciples into the Cult of Color.
Vegans are colorblind creatures that live underground in a world of black and white. Because of centuries of inbreeding, Vegans have lost their humanity and are evil self-righteous creatures, who push their morality on others. They eat only tofu and are very weak and small, like skeletons. They hate the Mounds and plan to destroy Moundkind. To Vegans, everything is literally black and white.
Color Babies hatch from eggs and attack Vegans, assimilating themselves into the Vegan’s body, thus making the Vegan turn ‘good.’ Color Babies and their Vegan converts are the targets of Darkness Babies, who seek to destroy them. Color Babies have strength comparable to that of Darkness Babies and are targeted for attack when they expose themselves as they leave the bodies of converted Vegans who have fallen.
Darkness Babies are a form of non-thinking drones created by the Vegan scientist BettoWatchow. Darkness Babies are born fully developed and need no instructions to carry out their tasks because they are born with this innate knowledge. The sole purpose of a Darkness Baby’s existence is to seek out and destroy good Vegan converts and Color Babies. These dark tasks are carried out by force and hand-to-hand violence. 


World Premiere: April 3, 2008, at the AustinVentures StudioTheater in Austin, TX
See an interactive timeline of the production’s history here.
Stephen Mills proposes the production of a collaborative ballet
Inspired by visual art, Stephen Mills investigated the possibility of collaborating with a visual artist on a new work in contemporary ballet.
Mills travels to Houston, TX, to meet with visual artist Trenton Doyle Hancock
After a studio visit in August 2005, Hancock and Mills agreed to create a work to premier during Ballet Austin's 2007–2008 season. A version of Hancock’s mythology would become the libretto for the ballet. Hancock and Mills met several more times in the following months. By October 2005, Mills had a first draft of Hancock’s libretto for the Cult of Color: Call to Color ballet in hand
The Fabric Workshop
In December 2006, Trenton Doyle Hancock met with leadership from The Fabric Workshop and Museum to discuss Cult of Color.
Stephen Mills commissions Graham Reynolds
In February 2007, Mills and Hancock agreed to commission Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds in the creation of an original score. Complementing proven abilities in sound engineering and composition, Reynolds also had prior success working with choreographers Yakov Sharir, Ellen Bartel, and Andrea Ariel.
Mills, Reynolds, and Hancock meet in Austin for their first creative meeting
On March 8, 2007, all three artists met in Austin, TX, for their first creative meeting. Hancock provided materials on everything from the overall story to individual characters, while Mills and Reynolds discussed how the libretto would interact with their respective media. This meeting signaled the start of the creative process for Stephen Mills and Graham Reynolds.
Graham Reynolds: Sketching and Improvisation
In late April 2007, after months of reading about Hancock's work and internalizing the motivations of his characters, Reynolds began generating ideas. These ideas came in the form of piano improvisations, drum beats, and guitar riffs. This musical sketching represented the first stage of Reynolds' creative process.
Costume Design
To address the challenge of costuming, Stephen Mills and Ballet Austin engaged Susan Branch, a costume designer out of New York City, NY. Collaborating with Trenton Doyle Hancock, Branch created a series of drawings by which the fabricators at Ballet Austin could begin to conceptualize the project.
Graham Reynolds: Drafting a Score
By early August 2007, Graham Reynolds began to organize the ideas generated in sketching and improvisation into a version of the final score. To initiate the process, Reynolds notated his most successfully developed ideas and began overlapping them to get a sense of the entire work.
Trenton Doyle Hancock: Creating a World on Stage
During the summer months of 2007, Hancock began the process of developing set and prop designs with Bill Sheffield at Ballet Austin. By October, he was ready to begin construction. The process continued through March 2008, when the sets were at last prepared for shipping to Austin, TX.
Sesom's Costume Completed
Constructed in Dallas, TX, Sesom and his disciples' costumes are by far the most complex in the entire ballet. By late October 2007, the costume for Sesom had arrived at Ballet Austin. Depicted above, Susan Branch's first completed costume design proved a useful tool for Mills as well, providing valuable insight into some of the new challenges which would arise as part of the choreographic process.
Stephen Mills: The Choreographic Process Begins
In late January 2008, Mills entered the studio. Beginning with loose, often spontaneous exercises, Mills and his dancers slowly began to articulate the movements of Hancock's Vegan cave-dwellers. By recording rehearsals, Mills was able to refine and develop the movements of groups of dancers and individual characters alike.
Graham Reynolds: Sound Design and Production
By February 2008, Reynolds was working with a full-length recorded score. Combining recorded instruments, thick distortion, and non-musical sounds and effects, Reynolds' completed score represented an entirely original sonic experience. Reynolds felt strongly that the music act environmentally; that it engulf audiences in Hancock's world, rather than separate them from the performers on stage.
The Cult of Color: Call to Color World Premier
On April 3, 2008, Cult of Color: Call to Color premiered to national and international audiences. Three years in the making, the final production of Cult of Color: Call to Color exists as the culmination of a rich creative alliance; one that has produced an original work in ballet unlike any other.


Music Composed and Produced by Graham Reynolds
Sound Design by Buzz Moran and Graham Reynolds
Recorded and Mixed by Graham Reynolds and Buzz Moran
Paul Klemperer: Soprano and Baritone Sax
Brandon Rivas: Upright Bass
Bruce Colson, Kathryn Orr, Catherine Price, Maurice Chammah: Violin
Jason Elinoff: Viola
Jonathan Dexter: Cello
Marcus Graf: Trumpet
Wayne Myers: Trombone
Mike Hoffer: Tuba
Dan Schwartz: Oboe
Seetha Shivaswarmy: Flute
Chuck Fischer: Vibes, Marimba, Drums
Jeremy Bruch: Drums
Buzz Moran: Guitar, Drums, Percussion
Graham Reynolds: Piano, Drums, Percussion, Vibes, Marimba, Guitar,
Electric Bass, Kalimba, Keyboards, Programming
Recorded at Red House Studio, Austin, TX
Published by Rickey Fence Music, ASCAP
Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio are managed by John Riedie, Pikon Arts


Stephen Mills keeps a file of images culled from magazines, books, and newspapers that serve as the inspiration for projects. Themes from these inspirations infuse multiple elements of each project. Visual images from this idea file were critical in Mills' creative process for Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. Visual inspirations informed choreographic elements and were instrumental in the costuming and set design choices.

Designed by Christopher McCollom, the costumes of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project range from bright, colorful period clothes to starkly minimalist underclothing. In some sections, the female dancers wear pointe shoes; in other sections, all dancers are barefoot.


Stephen Mills' inspirations from his visual art idea file are clearly evident in his scenic design choices. Images and text selected from the idea file for Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project include trees in a variety of representations. Some of the visual portrayals of trees could be interpreted as symbolic of family, the tree of life, or new beginnings. One particularly barren tree shows the silhouette of a man rooted to the ground and reaching for the sky. Another image depicts the birch trees for which the death camp Birkenau (birch tree meadow) was named. Additional inspiration came from the text next to a magazine layout with hanging mirror balls that read - Life suspends, turns and in the end reflects. They cast shadows as well as brilliant light. Mills collaborated with scenic designer Christopher McCollom to incorporate a tree of life as a central theme in the Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project sets. Additionally, the evocative multi-media scenic elements incorporate simulated walls, ramps, and integrated video footage of historical scenes from the 1940s to powerful effect.

Cast & Credits


Aara Krumpe / Jaime Lynn Witts

Frank Shott  / Paul Michael Bloodgood

Betto Watchow
Edward Carr / Christopher Swaim

Ian J. Bethany

Anne Marie Melendez

Bow-headed Lou
Orlando Julius Canova

Baby Curt
Rebecca Johnson

Shy Jerry
Elise Pekarek

Jordan Moser

James Fuller

Michael Burfield, Preston Andrew Patterson, Oren Porterfield, Chelsea Marie Renner

Color Babies
Ashley Lynn Gilfix, Oren Porterfield, Chelsea Marie Renner, Brittany Strickland,  Beth Terwilleger, Michelle Thompson

Darkness Babies
Michael Burfield, Orlando Julius Canova, James Fuller, Rebecca Johnson,  Anne Marie Melendez, Preston Andrew Patterson, Elise Pekarek, Brittany Strickland


Choreography by Stephen Mills
Story & Visual by Trenton Doyle Hancock
Original Score by Graham Reynolds
Lighting by Tony Tucci
Narrative Consultant: John Riedie
Original Sessom, Betto, and Disciples costumes fabricated by Irene Corey Design Associates, with special credit to draper, Kathy Kreuter

Artist Profiles

Stephen Mills, Choreographer
Known for his innovative and collaborative choreographic projects, Stephen Mills has works in repertories of companies across the country and around the world. From his inaugural season as Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director in 2000, Mills attracted attention with his world-premiere production of Hamlet, hailed by Dance Magazine as “...sleek and sophisticated.” For his debut in New York City’s renowned Joyce Theatre in 2005, The New York Times wrote that Mills can "...innovate by using the body in ways that depart from balletic convention.”  Mr. Mills was also awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Quebec’s Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition for One/The Body’s Grace. With Cult of Color: Call to Color, Stephen Mills continues to establish his ground-breaking approach to dance creation.
Trenton Doyle Hancock, Visual Artist
Trenton Doyle Hancock is well-known for his intricate candy-colored prints, drawings, collaged felt paintings and site-specific installations. Influenced equally by the history of painting as by the pulp imagery of pop-culture, Hancock transforms traditionally formal decisions—such as the use of color, texture, language and pattern—into opportunities to create new characters, develop sub-plots and convey symbolic meaning. His exuberant and subversive narratives employ a variety of cultural tropes, ranging in tone from comic-strip superhero battles to medieval morality plays, and are influenced in style by Hieronymus Bosch, Max Ernst, Henry Darger, Philip Guston and R. Crumb. The resulting sprawling installations spill onto beyond the canvas edges and onto gallery walls. Hancock’s mythology has been translated to the stage in an original ballet, Cult of Color: Call to Color, commissioned by Ballet Austin and created by Trenton Doyle Hancock, choreographer Stephen Mills and composer Graham Reynolds. The ballet performances debuted in Austin in April 2008. He created an original mural for the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, TX, as well as a site-specific installation entitled, A Better Promise, at the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, WA. The recipient of numerous awards, Trenton Doyle Hancock lives and works in Houston.

Graham Reynolds, Composer
Called “the quintessential modern composer” by the London Independent, Austin-based  composer-bandleader Graham Reynolds creates, performs, and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs and concert halls with collaborators ranging from Richard Linklater and Jack Black to DJ Spooky and Ballet Austin.  Heard throughout the world in films, on TV, on stage, and on radio, from HBO to Showtime, Cannes Film Festival to the Kennedy Center, and BBC to NPR, he recently scored “Bernie” featuring Jack Black as well as the Hulu TV series “Up To Speed”, and his score to the Robert Downey, Jr. feature "A Scanner Darkly" was named Best Soundtrack of the Decade by Cinema Retro magazine.  With Golden Arm Trio, Reynolds has repeatedly toured the country and released four critically acclaimed albums.  As Co-Artistic Director of Golden Hornet Project with Peter Stopschinski, Reynolds has produced more than fifty concerts of world-premier alt-classical music by more than sixty composers, as well as five symphonies, two concertos and countless chamber pieces of his own.  A company member of the internationally acclaimed Rude Mechs and Salvage Vanguard Theater, Reynolds last released two albums simultaneously: “The Difference Engine: A Triple Concerto” and “DUKE!  Three Portraits of Ellington” on Innova Records with distribution by Naxos, the world’s biggest classical label.  Next Graham will be composing “The Marfa Triptych: Three Portraits of West Texas” for Ballroom Marfa, including a suite for western swing big band, a concert of solo layered-piano, and a mariachi-nortec inspired chamber opera.

Director's Notes


“There are not enough good words to say about Cult. Attempts to capture the performance will only wind up sounding like some over-hyped ad in the Sunday Times Arts section. But Cult really is: Astonishing! Amazing! Fifty Thumbs Up! Visually Stunning! Musically Breathtaking! and The Dance of a Lifetime! In short, it very much deserves a Run-Don’t-Walk-to-See-It recommendation.” — Spike Gillespie, Austinist, April 5, 2008
Read the complete review here
“From slithering floor slides to expressive leaps, lunges, and lurches, Mills' choreography defined each character in a body language beyond words. Set to music whose moody descriptions brought depth to a rainbow-bright stage, the experience was enthralling.” — Nikki Moore, The Austin Chronicle, April 11, 2008
Read the complete review here


Studio Spotlight – Cult of Color: Call to Color
Thurs Mar 21, 2013
12 – 1pm or 6 – 7pm
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater

Watch a professional dance company in action! Up-close, personal, and informal, Studio Spotlight gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at choreography and elements from the upcoming production while it is still in the works. This is the perfect lunchtime break or happy hour activity! Free admission for those who RSVP. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Learn more or sign up.

Encore – Cult of Color: Call to Color
Immediately following the Mar 28, 29 and 30 (evening performances)
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater

Immediately following each performance of Cult of Color, join us for an informal conversation with Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director Stephen Mills, company dancers, and guest artists on the creative and artistic facets of the production. Free for ticket holders. Learn more.

AustinVentures StudioTheater
Mar 28 - Apr 7

Sponsored by:
Carolyn & Marc Seriff
Brenda & Mike Blue
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