Saturday, November 28, 2009

Girls with disabilities participate in a "Nutcraker" production in Michigan

From The Lansing State Journal in Michigan:

Katie Frayer (pictured), Laurel Briggs, and Caroline Thomas will never execute arabesques. It's unlikely, in fact, that they'll ever strap on toe shoes.

Yet, when the final curtain falls on "The Nutcracker" this weekend, the three girls will be on the Wharton Center stage, taking their bows as the audience's appreciation washes over them like a warm bath.

Every Thanksgiving weekend the Children's Ballet Theatre of Michigan, based in Lansing's Old Town, performs "The Nutcracker" at the Wharton Center.

This year the show comes with a twist: The cast will include three girls with physical disabilities.

Nadine Methner of Williamston is the mother of one of the theatre's dancers and a member of the board. She also works in Sparrow Hospital's Pediatric Rehabilitation Department.

"I see kids all the time who have passion for (dance), but they can't participate, except as members of the audience," Methner said.

But at some point she and other members of the board asked themselves the question crucial to barrier demolition of all kinds: "Why not?"

The result: An hour upon the stage - preceded by three months of rehearsal - for three girls who never expected it.

Katie Frayer, 12, lives in DeWitt. She uses a wheelchair, the result of a birth condition that affects her joints and muscles.

The theatre's props committee built Katie an authentic looking Victorian-style wheelchair to use on stage.

"It's a dream come true for her," said Katie's mother, Beth Frayer.

Laurel Briggs, also 12, lives in Laingsburg. She's paralyzed from the knees down - the result of spina bifida - and uses a walker.

Said her mother, Jill Briggs: "('The Nutcracker') is like nothing she's been part of before. I love giving her the opportunity; hopefully it will spark an interest in watching ballet."

Caroline Thomas, 8, lives in Lansing. Her brain cancer was diagnosed when she was in kindergarten. The surgery and subsequent radiation therapy stunted her physical development.

Said Caroline's mother, Carol Thomas, of the upcoming performances: "She is soooo excited. She has a red dress with a big red bow. She's in her glory."

All three girls get help from the Children's Miracle Network.

Board member Methner said the theatre, as a nonprofit entity, relies on the generosity of the community.

"We're always asking people, 'What can you do for us?,'" she said. "This was a way for us to give something back.

The sharing of the stage, Methner added, also has been a good lesson for the dancers, who, she said, "sometimes get a little full of themselves."