Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Minsk Journal: West Side Story

Tuesday, September 23, 2011
Minsk, Belarus -- Cafe DeLuxe

First of all, who says there aren't great restaurants in Minsk? They're everywhere it seems. Especially if you love pasta and really good local beer. And at night this city is absolutely gorgeous. Temperature in mid September is perfect, the people stunning and sitting outside at a cafe pretty much heaven (you could say I love my job).

OK, that out of the way, lets talk Tony, Bernardo, Maria and Anita.

This is round two (of three or possibly four) for Jason Ignacio (Company E's Associate Artistic Director) and me to be in Minsk working with the National Musical Theater Company of Belarus on West Side Story. As I mentioned in a note in July, this is the first time an American Musical has ever been staged in Belarus, and the US Embassy, especially its Chargé Mike Scalon and its Cultural Affairs office (thank you Irina) have made this an elegant and exceptional opportunity to collaborate across culture, language and style. And what a musical to begin with.

There are so many sub-plots to West Side Story that fall, in their own ways, into the still-extant geopolitical craziness of this part of the world. Of all the post-Soviet states, including Russia, only Belarus kept the name KGB for its security services. That, by and of itself, should tell you that its a complex relationship here between official America and official Belarus. Yet, as is the case every single place we travel, once you get past the politics to people the relationships are elegant, engaged, exciting and extraordinary.

Underneath the surface of West Side Story is the whole question of tolerance, of understanding and the consequences of not -- lives ravaged and communities shattered. And when you look at the news it seems a micro version of a macro world. And in that way the very same questions that emerge at the end of WSS -- could and should it have turned out differently -- live on.

How much those questions emerge in the staging of this show will be interesting to uncover. What will make West Side Story real in Minsk? Its not the story of a Puerto Rican gang trying to find its way on the streets of Manhattan in the 1950s, that's for sure. Yet the music, the love story underneath it all, still resonate, as does the incredible opportunity for movement to take center. That's one of the reasons taking this assignment with State was so appealing. There are almost no other spaces and places in dance like the one Robbins carved out in West Side. The movement and the story live inside each other. Getting that into the bodies and spirits of dancers whose life experience is utterly different than those of the Manhattan I grew up in (albeit a few decades later) will probably be the most interesting challenge.

Tomorrow we take the material we made in the rehearsal studio today for the "Dance in the Gym" and start imparting it onto the bodies of the cast. The work really begins then -- the competition, the power and sexuality of the movement and the odd mix of power and insecurity that is at the heart of West Side....

Cannot imagine a more wonderful journey.....

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