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Laguna Blanca, State Street Ballet to Perform ‘The Great Gatsby’

Dance is not usually a requirement in high-school English classes, but it is at Laguna Blanca, where a collaboration with State Street Ballet puts students on stage with professionals in a show based on a great work of literature. This year’s Library Dances performance will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 in Laguna’s Spaulding Auditorium.
The Library Dances project first came to Laguna Blanca three years ago when English teacher Charles Donelan and drama teacher Kate Bergstrom invited State Street Ballet dancer and choreographer Cecily Stewart to bring the program to the school.

During the summer, Donelan and Stewart select a classic work of literature from the 11th- and 12th-grade English curriculum, dividing the action into dances and dramatic scenes. Together, they create a hybrid of dance and theater that students then learn as part of the Library Dances performance.

“Students gain a greater depth and understanding of the characters through acting and dance,” Donelan said. “It allows for a much more personal engagement with the book, and a greater sense of trust and camaraderie for every student who participates.”
When students arrive at school in September, they are greeted by the participating teachers and a team of four professional ballet dancers from State Street’s roster. In less than a month, students learn their lines and dance moves, and perform the literature live for family and friends.
State Street Ballet has long made dance education a part of its mission, hoping to inspire a lifelong participation in the arts from a young age. Library Dances is one of its public outreach programs, and Laguna is the only high school in Santa Barbara currently offering this experience.

Past performances have included such classics as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Scarlet Letter.
During the three-week Library Dances unit, students spend about half their time on stage rehearsing for the performance. In that sense, the class is more than just a new way to teach classic literature, it also guarantees that every student in the Upper School participates in live theater at least once before they graduate. More than 100 Laguna students have already gone through the program successfully.
Library Dances at Laguna has already gained significant recognition. The audience for last season’s production of The Scarlet Letter included nationally known choreographer William Soleau, as well as the directors of the State Street Ballet, Rodney Gustafson and Leila Drake Fossek.

For more information, visit www.lagunablanca.org.

— Tara Broucqsault  for Laguna Blanca.


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