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Cespedes choreography highlight of Cleveland Foundation Centennial Meeting

Cleveland Foundation Centennial Meeting highlighted by Céspedes choreography and Colin Powell speech


Roy Berko 

In the last century, the Cleveland Foundation, the first community foundation in the world, has given $1.78 billion dollars in grants to enrich the lives of young and old through working for sustaining a vibrant local economy, developing human potential, reimagining Cleveland, pioneering housing options, and preserving the arts.  What better way is there to celebrate these achievements than to throw well-earned celebrations.

The Cleveland Foundation has given Clevelanders free entrance to various venues during this year and held a major event on June 11th at the Palace Theatre.

The highlights of that evening, were the granting of the Homer C. Wadsworth award to Steven D. Standley, Chief Administrative Officer of University Hospitals, for his “innovative, visionary and energetic leadership,” as well as the presentation of a delightful and thoughtful speech by Retired General Colin L. Powell, and an opening cavalcade developed by award winning choreographer Martin Céspedes.

Powell’s speech covered facts of his life, his experiences in the world’s political venues,  personal philosophical concepts, the value of the Cleveland Foundation, and a scolding of the present Congress for failing to compromise and work together.  As he comfortably wandered the stage, speaking directly to the audience, Powell used personal anecdotes and humorous references to enhance and charm the audience during what appeared to be an ad-libbed speech.

Céspedes’s dance concept was inspired by the organization’s visual image, the oak tree.   The choreographer envisioned that tree as the center of a connective story line through dance movement, lighting, electronic images and music.

As the story unfolded, a child finds an oak leaf on the ground.  A leaf which has fallen from a mighty oak, whose roots have grown deep and whose image inspires strength and longevity.  This allusion parallels The Cleveland Foundation’s growth from a sapling to powerful entity.

A woman comes into the scene.  She symbolizes the guiding wisdom of the organization as she looks into the future.

As Cleveland, circa 1914, appears on the screen behind her, we hear the woman’s voice filling the historic Palace Theatre with the strains of “Over the Rainbow” as visuals and movement illustrate the story.

The image of the oak is framed against a landscape of Cleveland across the decades, with archival photographs moving from sepia tones of the past to the color-drenched palette of modern day.  Dancers (representing the organization’s Board, the philanthropists, and workers) help a girl along the path to today.

To the final measures of the music, the girl rushes toward the horizon. The oak tree springs to life.  The bold energy and innovative spirit encapsulated in the Foundation’s mission, the importance of its lasting significance, and the anticipation of what lies beyond the rainbow, is brought into focus!

Evelyn Wright, who brilliantly sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” is an award winning jazz, R&B and pop vocalist.  Talented David Dittloff did the song’s arrangement and accompanied Wright.  The accomplished dancers were: Frankie Zevnik, Natalie Welch, Holly Harris, Kelly Love, Jens Peterson, Tom Sweeney and Paige St John.

It’s too bad the entire program was not as well choreographed as the dance.  Multiple showings of the same video, and an excessively long and uninspiring State of the Foundation speech somewhat took the shine off the excitement and caused some of the audience to exit the venue before the completion of the program.

Congratulations to the Cleveland Foundation, its founder Frederick Harris Goff, the many volunteer board members, philanthropists, and the organization’s staff for ensuring the legacy of giving to and enhancing the community for the past hundred years.