A Nueva twelfth-grade English class enjoyed a day in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House on Friday, as they watched the San Francisco Ballet’s mesmerizing rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The lively dance production was based on Shakespeare’s story of a band of hapless actors who leave the safety of city walls and head to the woods, where they are thrown into a magical world of fairies, kings and queens, love potions, and an impish sprite.
According to Nueva English teacher Allen Frost, “It’s so important for the study of Shakespeare that students get to see the plays come alive in performance, in any medium—in this case, through dance. We spend time with students digging into the language and imagery of the plays, but there’s no substitute for watching it take shape on a stage. An additional benefit of this trip is that our students experience how literature is very much part of contemporary culture—it morphs into new forms that engage new audiences.”
During their spring English seminars, Nueva seniors are focusing on various Shakespearean plays, from comedies to tragedies. The first part of the semester is spent reading and explaining the play. During the second part of the semester, students do their own adaptations of their plays.
“Part of the preparation of the adaptations is to view the play in other forms, including film, music, and the visual performing arts,” explained English teacher Jen Neubauer. “We explore the roles of imagination, art, and performance in literary texts as we seek human truths. Attending the ballet was an opportunity to see that live interaction with art that’s being produced locally. I hope the ballet inspired our students who are planning their own adaptations.”
Senior Rachel D. has been dancing since she was 2 years old.
“San Francisco Ballet's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was an exceptional interpretation of Shakespeare's original work,” she said. “As a dancer of 15 years, I found Balanchine's choreography to creatively represent the magical realm and the human realm, as well as the main themes discussed in our class such as love, beauty, jealousy, and magic. Each of the four distinct groups of beings and plots were nicely weaved together to provide an engaging and understandable story for the audience. The dancers performed beautifully, bringing life and emotion to the characters.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is “funny and quite ridiculous,” said senior David S. “It’s interesting that we are laughing at the same stuff now as people were 500 years ago!”
English teacher Jamie Biondi said the ballet expanded students’ understanding, helping them to realize that the same story can be told in wildly different forms, including ballet, which lacks language other than the language of movement.
“Our Senior Spring Shakespeare Seminars give us the ability to deep-dive into a single play, which is pretty unique compared to schools that cram Shakespeare into a curriculum along with all sorts of other folks,” he said. “We make a big push to expose our students to diverse forms of adaptation so that they feel inspired and prepared heading into their own adaptation process. It’s been beautiful to watch these adaptations develop over the years, because students get to watch them as ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders. The anticipation builds up in a really cool way until they have the chance to write, rehearse, and perform their own mutations of Shakespeare.”