He expressed the American spirit in dance, created more than 60 ballets and became a star producer of musicals. Jerome Robbins is one of the “fathers” of dance art in America.
Becoming a choreographer
Jerome Robbins was born in 1918 to a family of Jewish immigrants who had left Russia before the October Revolution. He studied the art of classical dance from the age of 18. The launching pad for Robbins was Broadway, where he danced modern until 1939.
Then the artist joined the American Ballet Theater: first he danced in the corps de ballet, then as a soloist. In 1942, Jerome Robbins became famous for the role of Petrushka in the ballet of the same name by Igor Stravinsky. Later the dancer took part in productions by Mikhail Fokine, Antony Tudor, Leonide Massine, George Balanchine, David Lichine and Agnes de Mille.
In 1944, Robbins presented his first ballet production, Fancy Free, to the public. It was a success and the author literally woke up famous the next morning after the premiere.
The choreographer combined work at the American Theater with performances at the New York City Ballet, directed by George Balanchine. In 1949, he finally joined Balanchine's team as an Associate Director.
More than ballet
Over time, Jerome Robbins’s creative work went beyond the ballet stage. He worked for television, ventured into directing, and won two Oscars for choreography for West Side Story. At the same time, Robbins was not leaving the New York City Ballet. Until 1989, he served as Principal Choreographer together with Peter Martins.
Jerome Robbins' ballet legacy is voluminous and varied. He created over 60 productions, many of which have been included into the repertoire of the New York City Ballet, the Paris National Opera Ballet and other theaters around the world. Among the famous performances of the choreographer are Afternoon of a Faun (1953), The Concert (1956), Les Noces (1965), Dancing at a Gathering (1969), In the Night (1970), In G major (1975), etc. One of the last works of Robbins was A Suite of Dances (1994), the main part in it was performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov.
World-renowned Broadway productions complement the gallery of works by Robbins the choreographer. The choreographer's Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof was a triumph. He received well-deserved recognition in both the theatrical environment and television industry. In addition to two Oscars, Robbins was awarded Tony, Emmy, Donaldson Theater Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards, received New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Kennedy Center Honors.
Jerome Robbins became a real legend during his lifetime. On the day of his death, June 29, 1998, the lights on Broadway were dimmed.
Ballet master's hand
Robbins's choreographic mastery was in the ability to combine folklore and modernity, dance and drama, jazz rhythms and timeless ballet classics. At the same time, his productions have a clear storyline and dancers profoundly reveal their characters using dance steps.
Creating a lavish heritage in the genres of ballet and musical, the choreographer often seemed to unite the two. His productions for the ballet stage and for Broadway as if "exchange" techniques of scenic art.
Jerome Robbins' ballets are very diverse in terms of style. He worked in the neoclassical style: The Four Seasons clearly recall historical court traditions of ballet art. The comedic style was also close to the choreographer. In the production of The Concert to the music by Frederic Chopin, Robbins brought on stage not just characters, but caricatures of the theatrical audience.
The ballet master skillfully worked with the musical material by Igor Stravinsky. He staged The Firebird (1970) and Pulcinella (1972) for the New York City Ballet. Later, the choreographer turned to Chopin's waltzes and mazurkas. This resulted in the production of Other Dances (1976), in which Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov performed the main roles.
Robbins' creative union with the outstanding composer Leonard Bernstein turned out to be strong and fruitful. For the first time, Bernstein's music played in Jerome Robbins’ debut production Fancy Free; years later, the magnificent West Side Story became another outstanding result of their collaboration.
George Balanchine said about Robbins that he managed to express a specifically American spirit through dance moves. The choreographer's significant contribution to the development of the American school and the entire ballet art consists in setting high standards and creative models for decades to come.
Deborah Jowitt, biographer of the great choreographer, probably managed to formulate the great thing about him simply and succinctly: