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July 29: Jerome Robbins

July 29, 2010

west_side_story1 Jerome Robbins (Jerome Rabinowitz), the choreographer of West Side Story, On the Town, Peter Pan, The King and I, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, and numerous other Broadway masterworks, died on this day in 1998 at 79. Robbins also led the New York City Ballet, directed films and television shows, and helped make modern dance ubiquitous in America. He was a Broadway dancer in 1939 and a soloist with the American Ballet Theater from 1941 to 1944. He had an incredibly productive decade as a Broadway choreographer in the 1950s and peaked in his achievements with West Side Story (1957), which he conceived, choreographed and directed in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book). Early in that decade, however, he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and became a cooperative witness (for fear of being outed as a gay man); Robbins named more names than any other HUAC witness and felt lifelong shame for it. He was an insecure man and a perfectionist, difficult to work with, and “gifted almost beyond compare” (Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal).

“[Robbins] was a wildly successful man who was riddled by insecurity, a man of enormous generosity who was capable of extreme selfishness, often inarticulate in person but a poetic writer, a homosexual who very much wanted a family when those things were mutually exclusive, a natural storyteller who aspired to master the art of the abstract ballet, a man who rejected Judaism . . . only to produce Fiddler on the Roof.” —Judy Kinberg, director, “American Masters.”

Watch an interview with Jerome Robbins about his first collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, "Fancy Free" (from the PBS American Masters documentary):

Watch a video profile of Jerome Robbins with clips from 1955 - 1997

Jerome Robbins Moving Image Selections from Dancing Camera on Vimeo.