The 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, shot on location in New York City, preserved Jerome Robbins' choreography. Photo courtesy DM Archives

A West Side Story Revival is Coming to Broadway—Without Jerome Robbins' Choreography

We didn't see this one coming.

According to Playbill, a revival of West Side Story, the beloved 1957 musical that put a 20th century, New York City spin on Romeo and Juliet, is coming to Broadway in 2020. We'll still hear Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, but the new production, directed by Tony winner Ivo van Hove, will be deviating from the original in at least one crucial respect: the choreography won't be original director Jerome Robbins'.


Instead, Belgian contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has been brought on as choreographer. This will mark the first production since the original to significantly deviate from Robbins' iconic moves, which were immortalized in the 1961 Oscar-winning film adaptation. (Incidentally, there is also a new West Side Story film in the works, helmed by Stephen Spielberg and penned by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame. We have yet to hear whether it will also be updating Robbins' choreography.)

Revivals of classic shows are increasingly opting to hire new choreographers rather than treat the original steps as sacrosanct—think Hofesh Shechter and Fiddler on the Roof, or Justin Peck and Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel. But choosing De Keersmaeker to choreograph a musical set in 1950s NYC is particularly surprising: Her career has primarily been in Europe, where she has developed a reputation for rigorously mathematical and musical contemporary productions. But she does have some NYC cred to her name: She attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in the 1980s.

Whether De Keersmaeker can live up to Robbins' precedent-setting work remains to be seen. But it does present an excellent opportunity for NYC-based dancers. There will be an Equity call for male and female dancers Monday, July 16 to audition to participate in a development lab for the production this winter.

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Donald Bradburn directing dancers in the studio. Courtesy Karen Harris

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