By Michael Bargas
As the top recipient of the pioneering Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture “Creative Culture Grant”, The Dancing Wheels Company & School will bring to fruition a year-long campaign to bring a vision of hope and possibility to those who have struggled with the indignities of bullying and other social injustices.
About the Production
The springboard for the campaign was a world premiere of Daring to Be Dumbo, an eye-opening production choreographed by the esteemed filmmaker, director, and choreographer David Rousseve. With its heartwarming moral lessons of embracing differences and conquering adversity, the classic story of “Dumbo” was a welcomed addition to the Company’s family-friendly repertory. Premiering May 9-11, 2013 at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, Dancing Wheels’ version entitled Daring to be Dumbo was set in a modern junior high school with a vibrant dream sequence featuring the “Pink Elephants on Parade”. The multi-media production brilliantly encompassed a video backdrop, new musical orchestration, and life-size puppets to create a truly magical story for the young— and young-at-heart. The cast of 15 dancers played multiple roles with the featured role of the outcast “Dumbo character” played by Dancing Wheels 5-year veteran dancer Dezaré Foster and her “side kick” Timothy played by Jen Sikora, the Company’s first student-turned-professional wheelchair dancer. The production opened on May 9 & 10, 2013 with student matinees for over 1,000 school-aged children who were bused in for the performance.
About the Documentary and Subsequent Outreach Programming
To capture spontaneous response from audience members, Videographer Paul Wehn directed a five-camera shoot filmed during the four-day run of the live production of Daring to be Dumbo. During rehearsals and technical production time, the crew also captured interviews from artists and patrons, finding real-life stories of those who have risen above the ridicule and isolation of “being different” to discover lives of dignity and achievement. In order to cover a cross-section of our community within the documentary, interviews were also conducted with Dezaré Foster, lead in the Daring to be Dumbo production; David Rousseve, choreographer; Justin Bachman from Honor Good Deeds and the Tolerance Fair; Tina Kovach, a school teacher in Cleveland City Schools; and Elec Simon, member of the Broadway-acclaimed production of STOMP. These interviews, along with the narration by Al Roker, nationally-recognized meteorologist and host of The Today Show, will air on WKYC TV-3 on April 5, 2014. After the airing, the production of Daring to be Dumbo will then be excerpted along with the documentary to be taken out to schools, libraries, and community groups throughout Cuyahoga County— and eventually nationwide. Thus far, over 30 outreach performances have been booked. The entire project is intended to inspire and evoke positive conversation around the importance of accepting everyone, especially those who dare to be different!
About Our Partners
The entire project was supported with funding from the Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture with their new “Creative Culture Grant” opportunity in which citizens from Cuyahoga County were able to vote for the top idea among 6 who were in the semi-finals. As part of the granting process, the lead organization was also required to bring together a team of partners to support this endeavor. The Dancing Wheels Company & School were fortunate to partner with five outstanding organizations: Honor Good Deeds and the Tolerance Fair, The Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio, The Northeast Ohio Center for Diversity, The Institute for Arts & Medicine of Cleveland Clinic, and WKYC TV-3. Filming and production support came from Paul Wehn and Dick Russ under the direction of Mary Verdi-Fletcher. Together, a wide and diverse cross-section of our community will have the opportunity to participate in this unique and eye-opening program that will add another voice to the anti-bullying campaign and ultimately make significant change in our world.
About the Company & School
Founded by Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the Dancing Wheels Company & School is America’s first and foremost physically integrated dance company. Traveling the globe, the Company performs, teaches, and lectures to over 30,000 people each year. The 15-member ensemble has performed more than 55 works from esteemed choreographers throughout the world and has had the honor of working on stage with such luminaries as Ben Vereen, Christopher Reeve, Tommy Tune, Robin Williams and Gloria Gaynor to name a few. The School of Dancing Wheels serves more than 6,500 children and adults with and without disabilities each year. In Cleveland, the Company & School has built strong partnerships with such organizations as Achievement Center for Children, United Cerebral Palsy of Northeast Ohio, Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute and Akron’s children’s Hospital. The Company and School have a distinctive mission to bring arts opportunities and experiences to children and families who might not otherwise have the equal advantage to participate. As an innovative art form, presenting inventive choreography, the Dancing Wheels Company has brought joy and hope to over 5 million people worldwide for more than 3 decades.