'Sit-down' dance comes to Emens

Cleveland ballet company integrates traditional and wheelchair dancers.

Tonight viewers in Emens Auditorium will experience something that few have seen, and even fewer have attempted: ballet in a wheelchair.

The Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels Company will integrate 16 dancers on the main stage of Emens. Five of these dancers are what the company calls "sit-down" dancers.

The performance in Emens tonight is a part of Project ArtsAble, Emens general manager, Bob Meyers said.

"We try to showcase different activities with creative disabled performers, composers, and so on," Meyers said.

The Ballet that the performers will be dancing is called "The Snowman." The show is based on award winning children books by Raymond Briggs and was translated into ballet by company artistic director Fabtino Verlezza.

"It's the story of a young boy who makes a snowman that comes to life. The boy takes the snowman through his own house and have their fair share of misadventures. Then the snowman takes the boy to his world," dancer Mark Tomasic said. "It transcends age limits, it's sheer entertainment to be lost for an hour of enjoyment. It's a great way to view wheelchair dance, you're so swept up in what's happening you almost forget about the wheelchairs."

Mary Berdi-Fletcher, a principal dancer, founded the company in 1980. Berdi-Fletcher was born with Spinadifada and used crutches as a child.

"Her mother was a professional dancer, and her father was a professional musician," said Tomasic. "She was born in the performance arts."

As Berdi-Fletcher grew older, she discovered that she easily disco danced in her wheelchair. A friend encouraged her to enter the Dance Fever competition. She reached nationals and performed on national television.

Nearly half of the company's 150 venues are performances, and many are workshops for schools and younger audiences.

"I remember how exciting it was to see a guest performer when I was in grade school, and it's an incredible feeling to know that I have the same influence on these children," said second-year member Tracy Pattison.

Monday afternoon three dancers taught and performed for several classes in the surrounding elementary schools. They explained how to teach dance to the blind, the deaf, and the disabled. The objective of the company is to welcome people of all abilities.

Tickets are $3 for Ball State students and children, $8 for faculty and staff, and $12 for adults. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased during box office hours and one hour prior to tonight's show.


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