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CalArts Alumni Magazine
The cast of West Side Story in an updated version of the classic ’50s musical. The cast of West Side Story in an updated version of the classic ’50s musical.

West Side Story Revival. Purists, Beware.

CalArts Dancers Make Broadway Debut

The revival of West Side Story opened on Feb. 20 in New York—with three CalArts dancers making their Broadway debuts. Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s modern adaptation of the Romeo and Juliet–inspired musical marked the first time a major New York production opted not to perform the original choreography by the legendary Jerome Robbins.

Kevin Zambrano (Dance BFA 18), Marissa Brown (Dance MFA 20), and Audrey Collette (Dance BFA 19) from The Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance were among the 33 cast members performing for the first time on the Great White Way. They worked with van Hove collaborator and noted choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, whose new dance pieces borrow moves from hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, and salsa influences.

Purists might be wary of straying too far from Robbins’ snappy street ballet, but the new production is set over a 48-hour period in the present day, so the changes more accurately reflect America’s culture and the show’s immediacy. Gone from the revival is “I Feel Pretty”; the gangs are more diverse; and videos are used throughout the intermission-less show.

Some of the performers, including Brown (as Francisca), shoot video with the footage projected onto large screens. “This role is different than anything I’ve ever done,” she said. “Performing on Broadway feels like another new experience that I’m grateful to navigate through and learn.”

As an ensemble swing performer in the show, Collette must be ready at any time to cover one of three different videographer roles: Mouthpiece, Gee-tar, and Brown’s Francisca. “These performers are unlike any other in the show, as they are providing a first-person perspective to the audience through a handheld camera that they operate, in character, onstage,” she said.

“I was hired for this role for my background in dance and film, the latter of which is a passion I discovered at CalArts,” Collette added.

Zambrano plays Moose, a member of the Shark street gang. During the rehearsal process, he was asked to improvise, create choreographic material, and to execute precise scene work. “Throughout the performance, we’re dealing with highly energetic choreography, fight scenes, and rain onstage,” he said. “This show has pushed me as an artist and performer, as well as what it means to be a professional dancer in this day and age.”

The CalArtians’ Broadway debuts were put on pause only a short few weeks after opening night because of the COVID-19 outbreak. All New York theaters, including West Side Story at The Broadway Theater, went dark at 5 p.m. on March 12, by order of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The cast hopes to return to the stage as soon as the orders are lifted.

Gone is “I Feel Pretty”; the gangs are more diverse; and videos are used throughout the show.