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West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall

Posted on June 19, 2012

web west side story 3

web-west-side-story-3Celebrating 50 years since the seminal West Side Story first finger-snapped its way into cinemas, a remastered version of the Oscar-winning classic film will be shown this week on the big screen at London’s Royal Albert Hall, with Leonard Bernstein’s electrifying score played live by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (RPCO).

“I’ve loved the film since I was a kid,” explains RPCO conductor Jayce Ogren. “The music is sensational and the story always affects me – as it does anyone who encounters it. It’s probably closest to opera in that it perfectly combines music and drama, supported brilliantly by the dancing – every element is at its highest.”

Combining live music with film – and a well-known film at that – was a new challenge for Jayce: “Usually, my task as a conductor is to get to know the piece really well through the score and develop my interpretation. This is the opposite, as the interpretation is already there and we have to ensure our tempo corresponds to the film.

web-west-side-story-2“The technical side was tricky initially, like learning a new language, but I gave myself over to it and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of perfecting every nuance. Plus it’s a great gift to be able to draw on drama, particularly a film like this that has such energy and vitality – it takes the music to another level.

West Side Story is a groundbreaking work of art. Bernstein knew the history of western music inside out but also responded to contemporary pop, creating this unique style that combines spontaneity and joie de vivre with sweetness and aching poignancy.” The brilliance of the score is, of course, matched by Jerome Robbins’ chorography – oft imitated, never bettered, and still thrilling to watch.

This special live project had its world premiere in New York, “where people went crazy for it”, and Jayce anticipates the same reaction at its European premiere: “It’s going to be electrifying, particularly with that huge Albert Hall audience. I’m sure it’ll bring back memories for people, getting to see this special version of the film they love, and hopefully it’ll bring in new fans as well.”

You can read Marianka’s review of the show in our August issue. West Side Story is at the Royal Albert Hall on June 22–24.

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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