Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'West Side Story' Gets Riveting Encore New York City Ballet Revives Lively Dances from the Classic Musical about Two Rival Gangs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'West Side Story' Gets Riveting Encore New York City Ballet Revives Lively Dances from the Classic Musical about Two Rival Gangs

Article excerpt

Nikolaj Hbbe is a dancer, not a magician, but that hasn't stopped him from transporting thousands of ticket-holders back in time with a snap of his fingers.

Hubbe's gesture opened the New York City Ballet's recent exhibition of dances from "West Side Story." It was meant to signal the volatile relationship between two rival gangs - the fabled Sharks and Jets.

But like one of Proust's madeleines, it also triggered countless remembrances of things past. Indeed, the enthusiasm that greeted the opening SNAP! seemed to confirm that the entire audience had either gone to the 1957 Broadway musical or seen the subsequent Hollywood film.

The latest version of this American classic, a 35-minute abridgment called "West Side Story Suite," highlights some of the livelier dance ensembles. Featuring six of the original ballets, plus a new solo set to "Something's Coming," it meets even the highest expectations.

Conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein, "West Side Story" is both a tragedy inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and a cautionary tale about cultural intolerance. It's also hilarious.

Yet what sets "West Side Story" apart is neither its classical structure nor its wit, but rather its deft embrace of the vernacular. Bernstein's masterly score, for example, resounds with the vibrancy of the city streets.

Stephen Sondheim injected as much urban slang into his lyrics as a musical comedy can withstand. And Robbins's choreography, tuned to the rhythms of jazz and Latin dance, wants to burst like a Manhattan fire hydrant on a summer day.

'Tonight' cut from the show

Robbins, whose relationship with City Ballet dates back nearly half a century, has stripped these dances of the surrounding dialogue for the company's new "Suite." Not even "Maria" and "Tonight" - show-stopping arias, but short on substantive choreography - make his cut.

Still, "Suite" retains the look and feel of its forebears. Designer Barbara Matera, for example, has reproduced Irene Sharaff's costumes from the stage play. Rosaria Sinisi has recreated Oliver Smith's original scenery. And Arthur Laurents's story line remains roughly intact.

"Prologue" quickly delineates the Sharks from the Jets with a skirmish that is both comical and full of portent. As the gangs scuffle in a graffiti-stained playground, their fortunes rise and fall like schoolchildren on different ends of a seesaw.

Although the encounter ends in a draw, it leaves no doubt that the Sharks and Jets - with their respective leaders, Bernardo (Jock Soto) and Riff (Hubbe) - will meet again.

"Something's Coming," a new dance to an old song, introduces Tony (Robert LaFosse), a former Jet intent on building a better life for himself. While an offstage singer handles the vocals, Tony's slow, dreamy steps give palpable expression to his boundless optimism:

I got a feeling there's a miracle due

Gonna come true

Coming to me. …

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