Ballet dancers train their entire lives to hone one skill. And that skill doesn't require them to use their voices onstage. But Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite requires a different kind of dancer; a triple threat who can also sing and act. This spring, the dancers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre were pushed in a whole new direction while working on the company's program in honor of Robbins' centennial, opening this week.
Robbins is known for his iconic choreography for both ballet and Broadway; West Side Story Suite is the perfect intersection of those two worlds. He choreographed West Side Story, the timeless modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, for Broadway in 1956. In 1961 he followed that up with choreography for the film, showing audiences worldwide that sometimes dance is the coolest way to work through a conflict. In 1995, Robbins condensed the main song and dance numbers from the show into West Side Story Suite, a 36-minute work for New York City Ballet.
PBT produced a series of fun videos interviewing dancers and coaches on what it's been like to learn to sing and act (while dancing). As principal Julia Erickson puts it, "I have had a lot of experience singing... in the car and in the shower."