Stage & Dance

Dance company and special-needs children connect: ‘In Our Element’

Allegro Dance Project will have a performance Saturday at the Lyric Theatre. In this file photo, Katherine Faughn rehearsed with Allegro Dance Project dancers Makayla King, left, and Katie Durham.
Allegro Dance Project will have a performance Saturday at the Lyric Theatre. In this file photo, Katherine Faughn rehearsed with Allegro Dance Project dancers Makayla King, left, and Katie Durham.

A few years ago, Lexington dancer Jeana Klevene was teaching one of her open adult ballet classes when one student caught her attention: a young man with autism. The student focused his body on dancing and put all his energy into the class, Klevene said.

That student gave Klevene an idea for what is now Allegro Dance Project, a Lexington-based contemporary dance company with an outreach program for children with autism, Down syndrome or other specific needs.

“I always noticed there wasn’t a lot of inclusion in the art of dance with children with specific needs, so I really wanted to pioneer that here in Lexington,” said Klevene, who founded Allegro in 2014.

Now in its third season, the dance company is preparing for a performance this weekend titled “In Our Element,” a show that Klevene choreographed. It’s centered around air, fire and water and how they relate to the human body. Klevene said special effects will be incorporated into the set, including lights, fans and a water wall engineered by her husband, Robert.

During the school year, Allegro offers free dance classes to Lexington special education students, partnering with the University of Kentucky’s physical therapy department to help students modify dance moves according to their abilities.

For the summer show, Klevene holds auditions and hires dancers to join the company and invites children from the outreach program to perform with them in the show. Sixteen of those 250 students will perform in the first piece of “In Our Element” this weekend, alongside the company’s dancers.

Funding for the outreach program comes from donations and grants, Klevene said. During intermission at “In Our Element,” there will be a silent auction, and all proceeds will go to the program.

Allegro dancer and Madison Central High School senior Katie Durham has participated in the outreach program for two years. She said she has been amazed by the impact that dance has had on some of the children, including Katherine Faughn, one of the adaptive dance students at Allegro, who has a rare mitochondrial complex 1 disease that causes speech and developmental delays.

“When I first met her, she was crawling into class, and now she’s walking on her own,” Durham said. “It’s amazing to see how dance can help their development.”

When she receives her check for performing in the show, Durham said, she plans to donate it to Hope for Katherine Belle, a foundation started by Faughn’s family.

Each child is paired with one of Allegro’s professional dancers for rehearsals in the five weeks leading up to the show.

Dancer Lili Thomas, a recent graduate of the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette, said she didn’t know about Allegro’s outreach program when she auditioned for the company.

“It was a new thing for me, but I enjoy it a lot,” Thomas said. “They’re so happy, and they’re so much fun to work with.”

Dancer Angelito Anacan, who also performs with the Kentucky Ballet Theatre, said he loves the children’s energy.

“As a dancer full time, I get to that point at the end of the day where, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of tired, it’s been a long day. And then they come in and they sort of cheer me up and re-energize me,” Anacan said.

Klevene said the impact of dancing comes to light during the shows.

“Dance is so therapeutic for them,” she said. “It has a calming, soothing effect, where they’re comfortable expressing themselves. It’s just all the benefits that you don’t even think about, not just the physical benefits — the sense of joy, the camaraderie, making connections with people that maybe they wouldn’t be able to make otherwise.”

Emma Austin: 859-231-1455

If you go

‘In Our Element’

What: Contemporary dance performance

When: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. July 8

Where: Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.

Tickets: $15-$20

Call: 859-280-2218