Dancing Wheels' new multimedia performance features a video backdrop, 10-foot-tall puppets and a vivid dream sequence, but the inspiration for it stretches back decades to a beloved story we all know — the 1941 Disney classic Dumbo.
"It had so many life lessons about going beyond what people think of you and about issues of bullying and isolation and ostracization," says Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the founder of Dancing Wheels, which features performers with and without disabilities.
Choreographer David Rousseve relocated the classic tale to a contemporary junior high school, and the show follows the trials and ultimate triumph of an outcast girl. Daring to Be Dumbo runs May 9-11 at St. Ignatius High School's Breen Center for the Performing Arts, and Verdi-Fletcher says she believes the integration of video and puppets will appeal to those who may not usually attend dance performances.
"It builds a relationship with all kinds of artists in our community," Verdi-Fletcher says. "People who may not actively go see dance may want to see something that is a crossover between dance and theater."
The production is part of a larger campaign to inspire people who've been bullied. It includes a documentary scheduled to air on Channel 3 next spring and outreach programs based on elements of Daring to Be Dumbo. A Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grant of more than $130,000 will help fund the effort.
"We really want to take a different look at issues of bullying, and we want to build a positive insight into it," Verdi-Fletcher says. "A lot of people get bullied for a lot of different reasons. What you do with those experiences can give you a positive outcome in your life."