By Greg Evans
Excerpt from the entire article :
Deadline: Let’s talk about West Side Story. Again, what about this material drew you?
van Hove: As everybody knows by now, I love American classics. I love American theater classics. I did a lot of Eugene O’Neill and I did of course Arthur Miller, and what is so great about these authors is they are able to create characters that you can connect to, that are very believable, that you can identify with, even when they are horrible or behaving horrible, and at the same time you see the consequences these characters have on a society and what society does to these characters. Like in The Crucible for instance, John Proctor, who is scapegoated by his society for something that they feel is not okay within themselves. It’s like blaming somebody else for their own sins, you could say, for their own misbehavior.
West Side Story, first of all, is a real American classic, and when it was created it broke every convention about what a Broadway musical should be…It tried to tell a story that was happening on the streets in a society where violence is central. It’s about gang wars and about young people. It was striking to me when I revisited the musical and also the text, read it carefully and listened to the songs, that West Side Story is a world without adults. There are only four adults in West Side Story, including two biased policemen, one incapable social worker, you could say, and then there’s Doc, who tries to do his best but is helpless. He has no influence really. So it’s a world of orphans. How do you build your life where there’s no guideline, when there’s nobody who can teach you, nobody who can say this is a boundary here, don’t cross this line. And lines are always crossed and people become like animals. In their search for identity, they think they establish identity by excluding the other, by saying you are wrong, you are an immigrant, so get out of here, forgetting that they are immigrants themselves.
One other thing, we should never forget that these four men who did this in the ‘50s – Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins – they wanted to reinvent the musical. How they told this story was as important as what the story should be. They wanted a total integration of music, theater and dance, and that was new at the time. It’s still a little bit new because musicals still have a tendency to have a scene and a song, then a dance. But with West Side Story you cannot separate the scene from the song and the song from the dance. So that was their challenge. I’m blessed now that I can talk to Stephen Sondheim directly, you know, because he’s the only person still living who was there at the time. He calls it a “wholeness,” he wanted a kind of wholeness, he calls it. And that same kind of wholeness I want to recreate in a different way because we are nearly 70 years later now.
Deadline: You wanted to change the original choreography. Why is that?
van Hove: No, no, no, no. It’s not that I wanted to change it. I want to make a West Side Story for the 21st century, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the choreographer and I, we highly respect the choreography, more than respect – we adore the choreography of Jerome Robbins, it’s really a masterpiece. But it has been there for ages, it will be there for the rest of our lives, it will be there forever. It’s there. We respect it, we adore it, but you know, if you want to make a production now for today we need also to integrate [new] choreography. And that’s why I went to Anne Teresa to see if she was interested and it turns out she was. And it’s not to be critical about the choreography that was there, on the contrary, but I think perhaps it can have now, so many years later, another take on it.