Article by Ruth Davis. Video by Ty Parmenter. Photos by Jonathan D’Amico and Mary Ann Mayer.
There’s been a lot written about the how music, dance and theater have a powerful and therapeutic impact on people with disabilities. If there was ever a great example of this it was during a recent performance of an adaption of Mozart’s The Magic Flute performed on the stage of Trinity Repertory Company. This production included children with Down Syndrome who are part of FBP’s Adaptive Dance program together with children and adults from the Rhode Island chapter of Seven Hills Foundation. The production was written by Seven Hills’ Jonathan D’Amico with choreography by Mary Ann Mayer, FBP’s School Director. It was directed Trinity Rep’s education director Jordan Butterfield.
Both FBP’s Adaptive Dance Program and Seven Hills RI have been recipients of grants by the John E. Fogarty Foundation. The Foundation, founded by Congressman Fogarty in 1964, grants organizations which improve the quality of life for Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Mary Ann and Jonathan met at the Fogarty awards presentation last spring, and began discussing the possibility of collaborating.
FBP’s Adaptive Dance Program was established 10 years ago in partnership with Meeting Street. “The primary goal is for the children to experience the joy of dance and music,” said Mary Ann Mayer, the program’s director, adding, “but it also offers other important benefits. We see children who have improved their coordination, overall fitness, balance, self-esteem, self-expression, teamwork, rhythm, and musicality.” The success of the program is demonstrated by these children every Saturday morning during their weekly classes, and some have even been mainstreamed into other FBP School classes and even into the children’s cast of The Nutcracker and other FPB productions.
Seven Hills Rhode Island is an organization that supports more than 1,000 infants, children and their families, adults, and seniors with various disabilities and life challenges throughout the state. Jonathan began writing theater pieces for Seven Hills about five years ago. He said, “Most of our participants have significant challenges–social, developmental, intellectual or psychological–and we find that this program definitely helps them build social skills, self advocacy, self esteem, and interpersonal skills.” The program challenges the participants to do things they don’t necessarily know how to do or out of their comfort zone.
In The Magic Flute, the younger Adaptive Dance students played young birds of the forest and the older ones played temple guards. They charmed the audiences with their composure and precision. On stage, some participants are accompanied by other student “helpers,” their peers, who coach them and provide them with a sense of confidence. During one of the scenes in the show, one of the children faltered. Her helper entered the stage and gently knelt down next to her, reassured her, and brought her to join the other dancers during the curtain call. They got a resounding round of applause.
Jonathan D’Amico said, “I hope we can continue this wonderful collaboration. The level of preparation, the exquisite choreography and the final execution of by the dancers was extraordinary.” He added, “Our parents and staff were so impressed. I hope they are inspired to see some of FBP’s performances–our goal has been to expose them to the arts.”
Ruth Davis manages Public Relations for Festival Ballet Providence.