West Side Story Suite

  • Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
  • Music: Leonard Bernstein - Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
  • Costumes: Irene Sharaff
  • Lighting: Jennifer Tipton - recreated by Burke Brown
  • Set Design: Oliver Smith
  • World Premiere: New York City Ballet, May 18, 1995
  • PBT Performance Date: May 4-6, 2018

Program Notes

Robbins’ and Bernstein’s West Side Story, their edgy and of-the-moment retelling of Romeo and Juliet, took Broadway by storm in 1957, and in 1961 the film version was an even bigger phenomenon. Instead of the Montagues and Capulets, the feuding parties are young Puerto Rican immigrants living in Manhattan and youths of European heritage. With a story by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and Robbins and Bernstein collaborating at the height of their powers, West Side Story remains a pinnacle of the American musical.

The Suite is a set of dances selected from the musical, first for the theatrical production, Jerome Robbins Broadway (1989), and then for New York City Ballet in 1995 (Robbins added a new solo, set to “Something’s Coming” for the NYCB production). The ballet distills the musical into its most essential pieces – the choreography that’s the heartbeat of the story’s narrative.

Robbins based his movement in the language of ballet but also drew from a colorful palette of movement styles. Social dancing – swing, mambo, cha cha, the Lindy – stage fighting, physical comedy, and every day, spontaneous human gestures combine to fluidly (and instantly) define characters and situations. We know right away, from their distinctive movements and mannerisms, who the Jets and the Sharks are in “Prologue” – we know where they come from and what the tensions are. In “Cool,” the iconic finger-snapping gesture reveals, with a flick of the wrist, that this simmering neighborhood turf war is a powder keg that’s about to explode. “America’s” choreography takes ballet form and movement and spikes it with the flair and personality of dance styles Puerto Rican immigrants brought to their new home.

The song “Somewhere” is presented in the Suite as it was created for the Broadway production. In the film, there’s no dancing when Tony and Maria (the Romeo and Juliet lovers from rival gangs) sing it together, a desperate plea for the world to someday accept their forbidden love. In the Suite, the “Somewhere Ballet” is for an ensemble – a moment where the feuding gang members dance together. Here Robbins returns to themes of belonging and connectedness, ideas he explored throughout his career. With expansive and poignant choreography, “Somewhere” creates a dream world of peace and community, shared by us all.