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The West Side Story is a romantic tragedy that was inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet that has been adapted into both a film and a musical. It received high praise from both critics and viewers, and remains a culturally relevant film that has lasted the test of time.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are transported to modern day New York City and are seen as two young lovers full of ideals and promise who find themselves caught between warring street gangs; the Polish-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Their struggle to survive in a world of hate and prejudice culminates in an innovative and heart wrenching drama that has earned its spot in the Hall of Fame. In this musical, there is more said with movement than there is with dialogue. Every movement, from the iconic snapping to the flick of a skirt, is a declaration of intent.
In Romeo and Juliet, every scene is luxurious and filled with riches and reminders of wealth. Instead of marble balconies and gold statues, West Side Story uses explosions of dance to grab attention, push the audience to the edge of their seats, and ultimately break their hearts.  It is easy to understand the anger that escalates between the Jets and the Sharks because it is prevalent in every move they make. Maria’s enthusiastic declarations of feeling pretty are almost unnecessary when paired with her passionate dancing around the store and the swishing of her skirt is more playful than sensuous. The choreography is a way to connect with the audience as well as further the story.
Street gangs and gang warfare is a problem in most big cities. True to form, the Jets especially are portrayed as vulgar, violent, and vicious. However, the audience gets to see them both as the thugs they so want to be, and as the lost adolescents they so clearly are. They quite literally dance around each other at every opportunity, but are shown to have deeper feelings underneath it all. Their bonds to the other boys in their respective gangs are deep, they move as a unit whether they are fighting, lounging, or teasing the police. 
The influences of ballet cannot be denied in each leap and gesture in West Side Story. While the movements are graceful, their transitions into each other are sharp and explosive and full of personality. Each dancer uses their whole body time and time again, from long leaps with their arms raised desperately towards the sky to the sharp snapping that contains all the volatile energy the boys possess as they strut across a landscape of crumbling buildings. The female characters move more independently. They are sensual and suggestive, with their flamenco style skirts and foot stamping. The women open their arms and bare their hearts to the men and to the audience. The explosive dynamic style of the musical is beautifully contrasted by the flowing movements of the lovers.
The dances that intersperse the musical transcend traditional dialogue and use choreography to propel the narrative. The fateful dance sequence at the gym after the number Mambo that solidifies Tony and Maria into their star-crossed fates is a prime example. The opening sequence has no real dialogue at all, and yet it is able to convey the bottled up rage and hostility between the two gangs as well as set up the beginnings of a turf war. In America, the Puerto Rican men and women mock the hostile world they are in and the uninhabitable world they come from, they fight playfully in a dance off that ends in a tango-like partner dance. The dance at the gym is the slow leak of all that bottled up rage, and tension builds as the dancing becomes more intense and less controlled. There are no wasted steps in West Side Story, but unlike most musicals, this one does not end with a show stopping number. The movement is minimal but powerful as Tony’s pallbearers step up from both gangs, and as Maria follows sedately; her steps controlled and her head held high

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