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Festival Ballet’s Adaptive Dancers Will Warm Your Heart

What, you ask, is so revolutionary about Rhode Island’s premiere ballet company staging “The Nutcracker” at holiday time? After all, the show is a holiday staple and has been performed for the last 38 seasons.  This year’s production is extra special because two members of Festival Ballet’s Adaptive Dance Program have earned roles in the production.

Mary Ann Mayer, the school’s director, started the Adaptive Dance Program with the Meeting Street School 10 years ago after being inspired by a similar program at Boston Ballet. The program is for students with Down Syndrome and is designed to foster a love of dance and creative expression in children. The benefits of the program also extend to developing coordination, balance, flexibility, control, and rhythm.

Over the last few years, Festival Ballet had considered including some of the Adaptive Dance students into their production of the Nutcracker, however, this year it came to fruition when both Gabriella Sluter and Sean Muldoon were cast.  Gabriella is 10 years old and has been dancing at Festival Ballet for 6 years, while Sean, 17, is a veteran of the Adaptive Dance Program and joined at its inception 10 years ago.

Sean’s love for ballet is evident. “He takes to the stage very easily. He’s not shy. He’s very engaged, in fact, sometimes he’ll take a second bow at the end of his performance. He also stands in the wings and watches the company dance whenever he’s in the theater. He just doesn’t want to leave the stage. He’s so enthralled in what’s happening and just loves it,” said Mary Ann.

He just doesn’t want to leave the stage. He’s so enthralled in what’s happening and just loves it

And as for Gabriella, her spirit and smile are contagious. “She just gets so much joy out of dancing,” said her father, Ethan Sluter.

Sean “was just so excited,” said Sean’s mother, Marguerite. “We’ve told everybody under the sun that he’s going to be in the Nutcracker and a lot of friends are coming and family is coming in from all over”.  Gabriella’s dad Ethan sees the casting as “a great opportunity for her to be out on stage and see what she can do. There are so few opportunities for our kids, and having this is very special”.