Chita Rivera is a living legend as one of Broadway's all-time great dancers, from her performance as the original Anita in West Side Story to the Tony Awards she won for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. But Rivera won't be dancing in My Broadway, the show she brings to Ruth Eckerd Hall Sunday and Van Wezel Hall Wednesday.
"I move, but the whole purpose of this is not to dance," she said from New York last week. "My first number is I Won't Dance. Now I want to do the jazz thing and have some fun with that."
Instead of dancing, Rivera and an 11-piece orchestra will perform jazz and cabaret standards from her new album, And Now I Swing, as well as songs from West Side Story, Sweet Charity, Chicago and other musicals.
"I always wanted to be hip and jazzy and cool like Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney and Mabel Mercer, and this is my chance to do it," she said.
Rivera turns 77 this month, but she hasn't hung up her dancing shoes. "I've danced my entire life," she said. "I've got an athlete's body. Your spirit dances. If you want to dance, you dance, and if you don't want to dance, you don't. It's a choice. This is my show. I do what I want."
Rivera danced for most of the great Broadway choreographers of the past 50 years, from Jack Cole to Michael Kidd, Jerome Robbins to Bob Fosse. Some of her favorite partners have included Rob Marshall, Wayne Cilento and Sergio Trujillo, dancers who went on to become important choreographers.
Asked what makes the ideal dance partner, she said:
"Technique and just loving to dance — loving to dance with the girl, showing her off and consequently showing themselves off. Just that male being, that male spirit. They have to have a sense of humor. And I like maturity in dancers."
Though Rivera is of Puerto Rican descent, she had mixed feelings about the current Broadway revival of West Side Story, which started out with some of the Sharks' songs being done in Spanish. I Feel Pretty, for example, became Me Siento Hermosa.
"When I first heard about it, I thought it was a fabulous idea," she said. "But when I saw it, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear Anita sing, 'A boy like that who'd kill your brother,' but it was in Spanish. I didn't think it worked, and neither did (producers), obviously, since they changed some of it back. You have to think about people who have never seen the show before. They have to understand it."
Still, Rivera loved going backstage and meeting Karen Olivo, who plays Anita in the revival, and the rest of the cast. "It was thrilling to be able to see those wonderful, eager faces and tell them how terrific they were."
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Hip-hop choreographer and dancer Jennifer Archibald is featured in Le Salon de Danse, curated by Michael Foley and Paula Kramer at Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. Archibald will perform solos and there will be a showing of Foley's dance film Joan, in which she appears. 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. $15-$35. (727) 895-6620; studio620.org.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.