Bernstein’s West Side Story is the first musical in the modern sense of the word. Compared to many other musicals, it owes its value to a well-chosen script in that it is a musical setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The 1957 Broadway première of West Side Story was an immense success, and the work earned six Tony Awards and the 1961 film adaptation won 10 of 11 Oscar nominations.
In West Side Story dance assumes a crucial role as a spectacular theatrical device and a means of communication and expressing emotion. There is dance not only in the colourful cavalcade of the dance-school scene (Mambo, Cha-cha), but also in the subdued scene of the American Jets gang and its leader Riff (the Cool fugue) and the duel between the leaders of the rival gangs is also expressed in dance. Accordingly, when Bernstein compiled an orchestral suite from the music of West Side story, he gave it the title Symphonic Dances. The music of the suite incorporates all of the musical layers of the original work, from cool jazz, Latin-American group dance to Stravinskyan classical music.