Flemish artists remake West Side Story in the heart of New York


Heaven only knows what will happen to one of America’s most beloved musicals in a new version by Ivo van Hove and Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker

Playing with the classics

Flemish theatre director Ivo van Hove and choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker are devising a new production of West Side Story on Broadway. The choice of two such experimental artists to take on this classic American musical has raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, not least because most productions remain faithful to the original 1957 choreography.

West Side Story is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, with the lovers divided across two New York street gangs, from different ethnic communities. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, the song lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the book by Arthur Laurents.

The original choreography, a combination of ballet and jazz, was by Jerome Robbins, who also directed an Oscar-winning film version in 1961, together with Robert Wise.

Little detail is available about the line the Flemish pair will take, although both have been careful to say how much they respect the original music and choreography.

‘Reinterpretation keeps theatre alive’

West Side Story is a classic and also the choreography is classic,” van Hove told The Hollywood Reporter, which broke the story. “We don’t have any intention of making something that is against Jerome Robbins, but I think at the same time, we are now more than 60 years later, and even the choreography needs an alternative version. So that’s what we want to try to do.”

This will be the first time that De Keersmaeker has worked with van Hove, and her first Broadway production, although her dance company Rosas is a frequent visitor to New York. Van Hove, meanwhile, is now something of a Broadway veteran, winning two Tony awards in 2016 for his production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, alongside nominations for The Crucible.

He also took the David Bowie musical Lazarus to New York in 2015, but this will be his first take on a Broadway classic. “This is Ivo van Hove’s first Broadway musical, and I’m eager to see what he does with it,” said Sondheim, the only surviving member of the original creative team. “What keeps theatre alive over time is reinterpretation, and when that reinterpretation is as invigorating as his productions of A View from the Bridge and The Crucible, it makes for something to look forward to with excitement.”

West Side Story will premiere to select audiences in December 2019, with an official opening night planned for 6 February 2020.