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The kids are ready to rumble

By Chen Nan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-25 07:36

Students of the musical department of Beijing Dance Academy perform a Chinese version of the classic musical West Side Story on Dec 16 as part of an educational showcase program. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Students from Beijing Dance Academy, under instruction from Broadway choreographer Joey McKneely, show their musical chops in a Chinese production of the classic West Side Story.

During a freezing cold weekend afternoon, when the students of the musical department of Beijing Dance Academy sang the songs, including America and Tonight, from West Side Story in Chinese, their teacher, Joey McKneely, was sitting in the dark among the audience.

The two-time Tony Award-nominated Broadway choreographer and international director, McKneely is no stranger to working in the spotlight.

About one-and-a-half years ago, he joined Beijing Dance Academy, teaching at the musical department. McKneely has spent a whole semester training his students — who are set to graduate in the summer of 2024 — to perform West Side Story, widely considered to be one of the most memorable musicals and greatest love stories of all time.

They premiered the complete Chinese version of West Side Story as an educational project at the school on Dec 5 and 6. On Dec 16, the students performed excerpts of the musical's Chinese adaptation in the school as part of an ongoing national showcase of dance education performances, which gathers art schools from around the country. Music students from eight Chinese art schools performed different excerpts from both Western classics and Chinese productions during the show on Dec 16.

"West Side Story requires a very high level of dancing. We had to rehearse a lot, which was very challenging for the students. The beauty of West Side Story is that it features all of the performers in different ways, which is great in terms of showcasing their talent and seeing what each individual can do to their best ability," says McKneely.

One big reason for McKneely to choose West Side Story as an educational project is that he has a very long history with the musical.

With choreographer and director Jerome Robbins, musician Leonard Bernstein, writer Arthur Laurents and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story, based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, was first staged in 1957.

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