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June 9, 2009 5:26 PM

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Summer School with Shakespeare

It's early June and students across the city are breathing a collective sigh of relief as their summer vacations begin. My inner dork, however, misses the days of lectures and learning so Monday night, I decided to check out...

It's early June and students across the city are breathing a collective sigh of relief as their summer vacations begin.

My inner dork, however, misses the days of lectures and learning so Monday night, I decided to check out "Dances with Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse.

With support from the New York City Ballet and The Jerome Robbins Foundation, the evening was hosted by the Shakespeare Society, a non-profit organization that promotes the Bard's works through various events and uses a portion of membership fees to fund educational activities for New York City kids.

Moderated by theater director Mark Lamos, the program featured a selection of scenes from the play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" juxtaposed with concurrent portions from Balanchine's ballet of the same name. A slew of actors, including Obie award-winner John Douglas Thompson and Jan Maxwell, currently on "Gossip Girl," performed the text, while New York City Ballet members -- among them famed principal Wendy Whelan as Titania -- leapt soundlessly across the stage.

It was, as Lamos put it, a "left brain, right brain evening" meant to focus on themes of imagination and perception and to highlight the ways in which the same text could be expressed in such different media.

Whelan, in a sheer blush costume and tiara, joined Lamos for commentary between scenes, explaining Balanchine's famed advice to his dancers, "Don't think, dear, just do."

"I'm much more used to the abstract," explained the 23-year veteran of the NYCB company. "I'm not comfortable being a character."

Aside from the obvious differences between the actors and dancers -- scripts versus tutus, for example -- Whelan offered a surprising insight into her preparation for the role.

"We weren't told to read the text," said Whelan. "But I did last week -- better late than never."


For more information on The Shakespeare Society, visit www.shakespearesociety.org

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