How did the West Side Story create the iconic Dance at the Gym shot?
by Jaskiran Kaur | Thu, 17 Mar 2022 13:52:49 GMT
The West Side Story features Dance at the Gym sequence featuring Jets and Sharks; Credits: West Side Story

West Side Story managed to impress its audience greatly with all the latest additions it made to the musical. Though the drama was as enchanting as ever, the latest cinematic masterpiece commanded an array of some of the best actors and dancers out there. 

As a result, the musical film won a plethora of awards and brags seven nominations for the 94th Academy Awards, one of which is a nomination for Best Picture. The film was also nominated four times for the 79th Golden Globe Awards and won three of the nods. 

The film deserved all its well-earned place, owing to the well-timed sound designs, its exceptional production design, costume design, and cinematography. And what's best, the musical's gym dance scene became a sensation on the internet and is regarded as one of the best moments from the film. 

The senior artisan's editor of the film, Jazz Tangcay, recently sat with the artists behind the making of the West Side Story. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, costume designer Paul Tazewell, VFX editor Sean Kachenmeister, production designer Adam Stockhausen and set decorator Rena DeAngelo share what it was like to bring the film to life. 

They shared the making of the "Dance at the Gym," arguably the most memorable of dance numbers from the musical. They also shared their experience of creating "Tonight," starring Tony and Maria. 

As expected, it really wasn't easy to create the masterpiece, and they had to employ a number of techniques to make it look like the shots were right in sync with the movements of the dancers. The movements and the steps in turn were needed to be very precise and were extremely complex to master. 

Yet, they managed to make it all work with Steadicam-to-crane confinement. The shots were hence nicely in sync with the artists. 

The masterminds behind the dance sequence put in a lot of thought to great the scenes right, and Kaminski was joined by the costume designer, and the production designer to help figure out the shots. 

The choreography had to be on point for the one-shot sequence and was aided along with many aspects to bring out the beauty of the dance. 

What added the most to the dance was the sheer fierceness of the team members off Jets and Sharks as they had the battle to see who was the better team. The teams competed against each other, helping to relay the story as the dancers engaged in the dance. 

The team kept the lighting simple for the dance as they just had to do it with one shot and the camera picked up shots from across the crowd, running the whole 360 degrees around it. And even if they limited the number to a one-shot sequence, they made sure that the "lighting and the visuals" were not compromised. 

The lighting concept they employed was used to bring the dancing sections out with the help of a dimmer. Hence, the lights were connected to the dimmer that would dim down some sections of the team at a time, and then as the camera moved to another section, it dimmed others. 

The light was allowed to flow in a single direction, and hence as the shot was shifted around, the lights were to be set in different areas or dimmed down using the dimmer. The whole collective hard work brought out the "beauty of the shot. 

The dance number was also made exceedingly stunning using the costume designs by Tazewell. In fact, they are so gorgeous that he was nominated for an Oscar for his costumes in the film. 

He began designing the dresses with the basic concept that it would include two teams, fighting each other to be the ultimate winner of the dance competition. So, he went after the unique traits of the teams and picked the colors that would suit them. 

For the Jets, he used cool tones as they come from New York, and the story was based there in the 1950s. The place then had a lot of steel and grays as of the street in concrete and that is how he dressed them. 

On the other hand, The Sharks come from Puerto Rico and are a tropical area with warmer tones. So the dresses were similarly designed taking after the warm tones. He also employed the floral pattern for the community, making it easier to pick up the rivalry between the two groups.