Behind the Scenes of SCC's West Side Story – A Conversation with Choreographer Jessica Hernandez

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Choreographer Jessica Hernandez

"Puerto Rico, my heart's devotion - Let it sink back in the ocean."

West Side Story has arrived, bringing its electric energy to the stage of Scottsdale Community College! We've delved behind the curtain to discover how this classic tale of love and conflict is being reimagined with a fresh perspective.

First staged in 1957, West Side Story continues to captivate audiences with its timeless narrative inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Jerome Robbins' original choreography, set to Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, remains iconic. Now, SCC's production infuses new life into Robbins' dances, thanks to the creative vision of two distinct choreographers.

Jessica Hernandez, a rising talent with a passion for Latin dance, is choreographing the Sharks. Here's what she shared about her approach to this iconic production:

West Side Story is known for its groundbreaking choreography by Jerome Robbins. How did you approach honoring his original work while also bringing a fresh perspective to the dance sequences?

For me, inspiration stemmed from Jerome Robbins' clever staging, particularly how he divided the dancers, such as in 'America.' I also drew from the essence and expression of the dancers in that number.

What can you tell us about how employing two distinct choreographies affects the production?

In 'Dance at the Gym,' we witness the clash and fusion of two worlds through movement. The Jets embody an athletic jazz style, while the Sharks bring the heat with spicy Latin-inspired moves. Audrey set a high bar, and I aimed to complement her vision.

What were your primary inspirations when creating the choreography?

I immersed myself in the vibrant world of Latin dancing, from cha-cha to mambo. When given the opportunity to infuse these rhythms into West Side Story, it was a dream come true. You'll feel the pulse of Latin passion in 'America.'

Can you describe the collaborative process between the choreographers, director, and cast in creating the movement for this production?

Collaborating with Don and Audrey was invaluable. Their pieces served as inspiration and reference points. Having creative freedom and mutual trust allowed us to bring our respective visions to life.

West Side Story includes a variety of dance styles, from ballet to jazz to Latin-inspired movements. How did you ensure that each style is represented authentically and seamlessly integrated into the production?

I considered the original style showcased in the 1961 film and the story's intentions. In numbers like 'I Feel Pretty,' I blended ballet with playful choreography, staying true to the production's essence.

Dance plays a crucial role in storytelling in West Side Story. How did you use movement to enhance the emotional depth of the characters and the narrative?

I focused on character integration and movement dynamics. Whether conveying seriousness through sharp slashes or gentleness with fluid motions, the choreography mirrors the narrative's emotional nuances.

What advice would you give to aspiring choreographers who want to work on classic musicals like West Side Story?

Trust your instincts and peers, seek clarity through questions, and observe your team for inspiration and growth opportunities. Embrace feedback as a means to refine your craft.

West Side Story at SCC promises to be a riveting experience, showcasing Jessica's dynamic choreography alongside Audrey's vision. Don't miss the chance to witness this electrifying production. Performances are happening on select days until April 20. Don’t miss the chance to see Jessica’s choreography in action!

Book your tickets today!

Behind the Scenes of SCC's West Side Story – A Conversation with Choreographer Audrey Sullivan