by Gary Axelbank
June 3, 2019
Over the past 12 months, the Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band has performed their Grammy-nominated West Side Story Reimagined at Lincoln Center and at the Kennedy Center. But Sunday’s showcase at 52 Playground in Longwood that for the first time included choreography by Danza Fiesta, might well have been THE command performance of a remarkable year for this remarkable work.
“It’s the best way I know to give thanks to the borough that has given me everything,” Sanabria told thisistheBronx. “It’s my inspiration, my upbringing, my ethos. Every day I walk out on the street and the people of the Bronx inspire me.”
Put on by Casita Maria and the Bronx Music Heritage Center with support from Councilman Rafael Salamanca, Jr., this fourth stop on the 2019 South Bronx Culture Trail brought out hundreds of Bronxites around an amphitheater in a park that was rebuilt on turf that decades ago was burnt out rubble. Al Quiñiones led the reclamation effort and founded 52 People for Progress, Inc. in a classic case of Bronx people defending their community.
“What you see here is what you get,” said James Melendez, a member of 52 People for Progress, Inc. “But if you want me to put it into words, it’s just that people from the community can enjoy the park as well as keep our culture alive.”
This, of course, is quite appropriate for West Side Story Reimagined, which portrays the tale of Puerto Rican migration and their fight for acceptance in New York City. Indeed this helped make it a special presentation for Maestro Sanabria who celebrated his 62nd birthday on stage in his hometown Bronx.
“At this point in my life what I’m doing is make sure that people, not only in the Bronx but all over the world, realize that the borough is really a special place,” he said. “As Dr. Mark Naison of Fordham told me, the borough, and particularly the south Bronx, has nurtured more forms of music than any other place in the United States. This show demonstrates that in full force.”
Considering the live, intimate nature of the concert performed in a Bronx park, the addition of Danza Fiesta was a master stroke. This troupe that Sanabria calls the most accomplished Puerto Rican dancers in new York City, choreographed four of the pieces of Reimagined and at one point even brought members of the crowd to join them in a festive merengue.
As he closed the show, Sanabria’s comments were as much about the people of the south Bronx who were amassed in front of him, as they were about the theme of Leonard Bernstein’s iconic masterpiece.
“We can win the struggle by making more beautiful art, more beautiful music, and more beautiful poetry as in this, our West Side Story,” he proclaimed.
In addition to its Grammy nomination, West Side Story Reimagined was named the ‘Record of the Year’ by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Next Saturday beginning at 7:00pm on the 52 Playground stage, Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band will perform the music of Puerto Rico. Admission is free.