West Side Story

West Side Story: I won’t lie. West Side Story was the revival I was most excited about this season. Not only do we get to revisit one of the great Broadway musicals of all time, we get to explore it in a new way because of a bilingual approach to the material conceived by Arthur Laurents. Now West Side Story has a lot going for it: a fantastic score by Leonard Bernstein, some great lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and some fantastic Jerome Robbins choreography that really pulls everything together. Oh yes, it also has a book by Arthur Laurents – but it’s really the contribution to the show that is least touched by genius and I guess to compensate for that Laurents has fiddled with the show here and there – cutting a good portion of the “Somewhere” ballet along the way. Tut, tut, tut, Mr Laurents – the “Somewhere” ballet was a beautifully conceived piece of choreographic storytelling and your staging with the cutesy little boy just doesn’t measure up. Fortunately, we were spared that bastardization at the Tony Awards and were treated to a magnificent “Dance at the Gym”. What a pity Robbins could not have supervised the final edit of this for the film – the thematic and storytelling motifs in the choreography come through on stage in a way that they never do in the movie and here every second is fantastic – not only because it’s entertaining but also because it manages to keep the narrative and its themes in the foreground. The “Dance at the Gym” is no simple diversion here; it’s an essential piece of storytelling in a show where – apologies to Mr Laurents – the score and choreography do far more than words alone ever could.

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3 Responses to West Side Story

  1. Hans Anders Elgvang says:

    “[T]he thematic and storytelling motifs in the choreography come through on stage in a way that they never do in the movie and here every second is fantastic – not only because it’s entertaining but also because it manages to keep the narrative and its themes in the foreground.”

    I want you to elaborate. I can’t see anything but dancing, and am not able to interpret it.

    I’m not kidding, David.

  2. Eric HG says:

    Hans, with all due respect how can one elaborate more? Does your mind just shut off when it comes to character or story as soon as people start dancing? You don’t see some movements, some patterns, some looks as expressing something different than others? *so confused*

  3. David Fick says:

    Hans, are you really not kidding? It’s so obvious that the dance is a competition to control the turf, much like the “Prologue” but in a different context. The dance shows us that their fight is not just something that exists on the streets, but something that affects all aspects of their lives. We see it here in how one group shifts the other one aside as they do their sections of the dance. We see the segregation between the groups as well as the competition in the bits that pit Riff and Velma against Bernardo and Anita. The rivalry between those two in particular, because of their status as leaders, is made clear. All of this is not only clear in the placement, but also in the steps. Look, for instance, at how different the dance vocabulary is between those two couples. The kinds of steps they do separate them for us, as does the style through which the steps are interpreted and characterized: Bernardo and Anita work around their hips, the knees are bent and cushion the steps, which feature more intricate footwork than legwork, and the display comes from the couple together rather than just from one partner; Riff and Velma work from their waists, the knees are less elastic and more rigid and the work come more from the whole lower leg rather than the foot alone, and a large part of the display is about the man showing off the woman. Does all this help make it a little more clear?

    The other thing this dance shows us is Maria and Tony’s status as outsiders from their respective groups is overtly realized by their placement on the sides of the stage. The whole thing is just a wonderful piece of staging.

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