Reinventing The Nutcracker

Cindy Shanks has lived at Matheny for 25 years. Though she can’t speak or walk, she is able to express her feelings through her art. In the beginning, that was by painting, made possible by Shanks’ long-time participation in Matheny’s Arts Access Program, which enables people with disabilities to create fine art, assisted by professional artist-facilitators.

In addition to painting, Shanks now produces digital art, participates in the creative writing program, and is a dancer and choreographer. Dance, she says, communicating via a message board, “helps me express my feelings through movements of other people.”

At Full Circle 2015 Perspectives, the annual celebration of the Arts Access Program, to be held Saturday, November 7, in Matheny’s Robert Schonhorn Arts Center, the stage presentation will conclude with a dance number called “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker. It was choreographed by Shanks and includes eight dancers, including herself. Some will be in wheelchairs, and some will be ambulatory. “It took Cindy more than a year to do this,” says dance facilitator Corey Bliss. “It was a fascinating process. We don’t have eight dancers on staff, so Cindy choreographed where everyone will be. It was incredible to watch her put it together.” “Cindy Shanks”, explains dance facilitator Heather Williams, “tried to completely re-choreograph The Nutcracker. She ventured into uncharted Arts Access territory. No one in the history of the choreography program has ever completed a piece with that many moving parts. Cindy has such a clear vision and acute understanding of the very complex Tchaikovsky score. Her piece is closing the show and is sure to be a beautiful finale.”

The stage presentation, produced by Williams, will include 12 segments, encompassing drama and creative writing in addition to dance. Actors from Premiere Stages, the professional equity theatre in residence at Kean University, will be part of the production, along with several professional dancers. Shanks will also have an untitled acrylic on canvas painting in Full Circle’s visual arts exhibit.

Full Circle will be held from 3-6 p.m. The visual arts exhibition, curated by Arts Access project and event coordinator Haeree Park, will begin in the Arts Center gallery at 3 p.m. That will be followed by the stage presentation, produced by dance facilitator Heather Williams.

Food and beverage sponsors are: Café Azzurro in Peapack; Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone; 3 West and Urban Table, Basking Ridge; cocoLuxe Fine Pastries, Peapack; and Village Office Supply, Somerset. Tickets to Full Circle are $40 and can be ordered by phone at (908) 234-0011, ext. 260; by email at; or by registering online at All event proceeds will benefit the Arts Access program at Matheny.