West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, 1961) is the modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Based in the turmoil of 1950s New York, violence and gangs plagued big city streets where the Sharks and the Jets feud over territory. The tragedies befalling the gangs through the forbidden love of Tony and Maria serves to tear down the barriers between the Peurto Rican and American gangs.
The dynamic beat speeds and slows according to the emotions portrayed in each scene. Tense, anxious emotions are supported by a strong, rapid beat, while delicate, measured rhythms accompany scenes of love and longing.
The setting is used to prepare the scene in much of West Side Story. Each scene utilizes props, lighting, and special effects to set the scene for subsequent actions. Colored lighting plays into important role of color throughout the film and objects in the scenes relate directly to the actions of the dancers.
Dancers use facial expression and body language to portray powerful emotions and actions. Because movements in dance can be so intensely descriptive, those of West Side Story are far stronger than words and actions of traditional acting.
Color plays a vital role in foreshadowing and setting the scene. Color is used to differentiate between the Jets and the Sharks and applied throughout the movie to support the plot. Color is used most effectively in the scene in which Maria first confronts Tony about the murder of her brother. Red and blue are used to create a visual separation of the lovers; also serving to foreshadow the couple’s doomed fate.
Auditory effects play a vital role in plot support throughout the film. From the dynamic orchestral music to whistling and sounds of the city, auditory signals serve to steer the viewer’s attention through ideas and emotions. Sounds direct the viewer’s interpretation of setting and plot.
image compilation produced courtesy of West Side Story (1961 film), morethandance.com, and kcbs.com