CSUN Hosts “West Side Story” Dance Performance With Students, Original Cast

  • CSUN's dance group prepares for their performance of selections from “West Side Story” at the Valley Performing Arts Center Photo on May 10. Photo by Jenny Donaire.

  • Along with CSUN's dance group, members of the original Broadway cast of “West Side Story” will also participate in the performance. Photo by Jenny Donaire.

  • CSUN kinesiology professor Bethana Rosenthal and lecturer Evan Rosenblatt prepare for the event. Photo by Jenny Donaire.

  • CSUN dance members choreograph a scene from “West Side Story." Photo by Jenny Donaire.

  • CSUN dance members (foreground, L-R) Bebe Liang and Mariko Iwabuchi (background, L-R); Courtney Ryan, Michael Florita and Jonathan Lorico take a break from rehearsals. Photo by Jenny Donaire.

  • CSUN kinesiology professor Paula Thomson leads the rehearsal for the dance group's performance of passages from “West Side Story.” Photo by Jenny Donaire.

“West Side Story” is one of the most iconic Broadway musicals in history. On May 10 at the Valley Performing Arts Center, the California State University, Northridge Orchestra, led by conductor and music department faculty member Jon Roscigno, will perform symphonic dances from the Tony Award-winning musical — and he’s bringing the CSUN dancers and some of the original Broadway cast dancers with him.

Roscigno has teamed up with CSUN kinesiology professor Paula Thomson to mix her group of student dancers with dancers from the original stage and film version to perform and provide support. The night also includes performances of the “Pines of Rome,” Poulenc’s double piano concerto, and the Pugh trombone concerto featuring CSUN faculty member Andy Malloy.

“The addition of the dancers and original cast members who will be in attendance on the evening of the performance will add to what is already quite a spectacular program,” said Thomson, who is friends with many of the original cast members and asked them to participate after Roscigno approached her.

“[Original cast members] Robert Banas and Gina Trikonis came to one of my classes two years ago when their new book was first published,” Thomson said. “At that time, they expressed enthusiastic support about the quality of dance at CSUN — and they offered their assistance to promote dance at CSUN. This seemed like a great opportunity, and they have now willingly accepted.”

Unfortunately, Banas — who played Joyboy in the original — was injured and won’t be able to dance. But he’ll attend the performance to show his support for his fellow dancers.

“I’m slowly recovering and will be there for their performance, to cheer them on with moral support,” Banas said. “I know how they must feel with such anxiety and emotion, to perform to a classic score and with the original stage and film performers there to support them.”

It’s an outlook Thomson loves, because it gives her students another reason to be excited about performing in the VPAC with a 60-piece orchestra, a rare occurrence for any dancer. She also recognizes the amazing opportunity to dance to Leonard Bernstein’s music, with some of the people who brought it to life the first time around.

“[The students] get to meet several dance legends and share the stage with them,” she said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for all of us.

“As for the original performers, they are delighted to see dancers pursue their passion as dancers and they strongly believe in promoting dance.”