West Side Story was co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Robert Wise was an experienced director who had success directing films across all genres, from science fiction to epics and westerns. Jerome Robbins, who was the director and choreographer for the original 1957 Broadway production, was brought on after a year of production to co-direct and choreograph. Wise was responsible for directing the narrative sections of the movie, while Robbins took the lead on the musical numbers.
Robbins skillfully combines classical ballet and jazz choreography with the gritty, urban setting and story, creating a dichotomy between the beauty and horror of the tension between the dueling gangs. Robbins, a fierce taskmaster and obsessive artiste, was ultimately asked to leave the film before it was completed, as he was taking a notoriously long time to film each dance sequence, but he was still given a credit as a co-director.
Wise finished the film with the help of Robbins' dance assistants who helped choreograph the remaining two musical numbers of the film. Wise was particularly interested in the way West Side Story shows how racial prejudices in America lead to tragedy. Together, Robbins and Wise were the first duo to share the Academy Award for Best Director.