Jerome Robbins

Dancer, choreographer, director, producer, writer, and all-round theatre man Jerome Robbins (b. New York, NY, 11 October 1918; d. New York, NY, 29 July 1998) was one of the most imaginative, influential, and popular American creators of dance in the twentieth century. His works encompassed everything from classical ballet to film, television, and contemporary musical theatre. Winner of five Tony Awards®, an Oscar® (for West Side Story) and an Honorary Award from the Academy®, a Drama Desk Special Award, and a Kennedy Center Honors Award (1981), he was essential to the success on Broadway of On the Town, High Button Shoes, The King and I, The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof as well as many shows for which he was not credited. Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan a month before the end of World War I, and was given his middle name in honor of the sitting American President. The family, with many friends and relatives in show business, resided in Manhattan and ran a delicatessen for a short time, but for most of Jerry’s childhood and adolescence lived within cheap and easy commuting distance in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Jerry’s father and uncle ran the Comfort Corset Company. In the fall of 1935 Jerry went to New York University to study chemistry, but his grades were poor and the source of his funding – the corset business – was suffering from the Depression, and he dropped out. His parents generously agreed, however, to provide his room and board for a year while he explored the possibilities for his life. Whatever they were, said Robbins later, “running the Comfort Corset Company was not among them.” Jerry had been fascinated with ballet and puppetry as a child, especially after seeing his gifted older sister Sonia dance in a production of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. His first impulse, and one that would bear bounteous fruit, was to apprentice himself to the producer, Gluck Sandor of the Dance Center, who gave Jerry encouragement, a non-Jewish stage name – Gerald Robbins –, and introduced him to the luminaries of the Group Theatre: Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, and Cheryl Crawford. In exchange for running errands, cleaning window blinds, and building props, Jerry got his first real dance lessons at the New Dance League: Spanish dance with Helene Veola, Asian with Yeichi Nimura, ballet with Ella Daganova, and choreography with Bessie Schönberg. His first paid work on stage was a one-line role at the Yiddish Art Theatre at ten dollars a week. From the very beginning of his Broadway career, Jerome Robbins was rubbing elbows with some of the greatest figures in theatre and dance history. George Balanchine, who had recently parted ways with the Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House, had replaced the original choreographer of Great Lady (1938) on Broadway, a “play with music” by newcomer Frederick Loewe. What had started out for Robbins as yet another routinely discouraging day of auditioning turned into an unexpected stroke of good luck. Balanchine picked him out of the line for the ensemble, along with future stars Alicia Alonso and Nora Kaye. Unfortunately even Norma Terris, Great Lady‘s star, and the sensational premier danseur André Eglevsky of the Ballets Russes could not stretch the show’s run past twenty performances. The producers immediately turned to another project: Stars in Your Eyes (1939) with Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante, carrying Robbins, Nora Kaye, Alonso, and her husband Fernando with them into the new ensemble. At 127 performances, the new show did a little better than the last. The Alonsos, Kaye, and Robbins often worked their steps out together as a quartet in rehearsal, and several Robbins-created moves found their way into the show. As a teenager, Jerry had been producing, directing, and acting in summer performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at his family’s Camp Kittatinny in Pennsylvania; from 1938 he spent four summers nearby at Camp Tamiment, a well-known destination for actors, musicians, dancers, and artists of all kinds, and theatrical aficionados. There he knew and worked with Danny Kaye, Sylvia Fine, Imogene Coca, and Carol Channing, presenting a full-scale Broadway-style revue each and every week. A direct product of this summer workshopping was The Straw Hat Revue (1939) on Broadway, the vehicle that made Danny Kaye a star, featuring Imogene Coca and the great Alfred Drake. Jerry Robbins’s take-home pay from this show enabled him to leave his parents’ house in Weehawken and rent minuscule quarters on Seventh Avenue. After a brief stint on Broadway dancing in Keep off the Grass (1940) with Ray Bolger, Ilka Chase, Jimmy Durante and Jackie Gleason, Robbins joined Lucia Chase’s newly formed Ballet Theatre (it became American Ballet Theatre in 1956). With him in the company were the Alonsos, Nora Kaye, Anton Dolin, Agnes de Mille, John Kriza, Harold Lang, Hugh Laing, and Antony Tudor. After de Mille singled him out – because of his exceptional ability to count out the complicated rhythms of the choreography – to dance the part of The Youth in Three Virgins and a Devil (1941), he was chosen more and more frequently for leading solo parts: Hermes in Helen of Troy, the title role in Petrouchka (the fulfillment of a childhood dream), and Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. During the four years he danced with Ballet Theatre, Robbins began to keep sporadic but ambitious journals full of ideas for dance scenarios, from which seeds many of his mature creations – On the Town, West Side Story, Les Noces – were later to grow. One of these scenarios – initially dubbed Shore Leave Interlude – was accepted by Ballet Theatre for production, on condition that Robbins find a musical score to accompany it. The search was fruitless for several months, but at last the name of Leonard Bernstein came up. Happily, set designer Oliver Smith knew Bernstein and was able to locate him; Robbins and he hit it off instantly and, despite the fact that neither of them had ever created a ballet before, were able to collaborate by telephone and mail while the company was on tour. Thus the historic premiere of Fancy Free, judged by the Times critic to be “exactly ten degrees north of terrific,” took place at the Metropolitan Opera House in April 1944, the first of several collaborations between the two twentieth-century geniuses. Later in the year, Robbins and Bernstein expanded the concept of Fancy Free into a full-scale musical show, On the Town, which was a genuine Broadway hit, running for 462 performances and launching promising careers for both creators. Once again Oliver Smith designed the sets; Bernstein’s friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green joined the team with book and lyrics (being careful to write in characters they could play themselves). George Abbott directed. Jerome Robbins, according to his trusted colleague and rehearsal pianist Trude Rittman, was becoming “just murder to work with … not that he did it to me, but he did it to the kids and he did it to himself … [he] constantly murdered himself, he was so high-strung and self-tormented.” By the time his next musical, Billion Dollar Baby (1945, 220 performances), was in rehearsal, he was so feared and disliked by the ensemble that when he took a step backwards off the apron of the stage and fell into the orchestra pit, no one moved a muscle or said a word of warning. Nonetheless, he won a Donaldson Award for the show’s choreography in the spring of 1946. Two years later, he won praise and plaudits, including his first Tony Award® for Choreography, for his “Charleston” routine and the legendary Keystone Kops number, “On a Sunday by the Sea” (“A masterpiece of controlled pandemonium!”) in High Button Shoes (1947). Meanwhile Robbins was continuing to create dances for Ballet Theatre, notably the durable Interplay (to music by Morton Gould) and the controversial Facsimile (Stravinsky), and from this point on through the next two decades, he would alternate regularly between ballet and the musical theatre, choreographing at least one work in each genre each year. Nineteen-forty-eight brought the musical Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’!, conceived, choreographed and co-directed by Robbins; in 1949 he choreographed Miss Liberty; in 1950 staged the dances in Call Me Madam; and in 1951 created the famous dance sequences in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, including the “March of the Siamese Children,” the pantomime-ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” and the polka “Shall We Dance?” In the fall of 1948 George Balanchine took leadership of the freshly reconstituted and renamed New York City Ballet, and Jerome Robbins was inspired to re-establish his connections with the great choreographer. Balanchine hired him at once, eager to infuse his company with Robbins’s distinctively American spirit. Balanchine named him, at age 31, his Associate Artistic Director, and despite their inevitable ups and downs, the two would work closely together – even sharing an office – until Balanchine’s slow deterioration (from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) and death in 1983. Among Robbins’s early triumphs as choreographer with the company were The Guests (January 1949, music by Marc Blitzstein), The Age of Anxiety (February 1950, on a poem by Auden with music by Bernstein) for Tanaquil Le Clercq, and a collaboration with Balanchine on a “beach ballet” entitled Jones Beach in 1950. He danced principal parts in Balanchine’s ballets Bourrée Fantasque (Chabrier), The Prodigal Son (Prokofiev), and Tyl Ulenspiegel (Richard Strauss). Now at the top of his fame and form, Jerome Robbins was booked for an appearance on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show (“The Toast of the Town”), but three weeks before the event, Sullivan, convinced that Robbins was a Communist (he had attended the notorious Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1949), canceled the contract. It was Sullivan – threatening at one point to expose him as a homosexual if he did not deliver (directly to Sullivan himself!) a list of names of leftists in show business – who set the machinery in motion that brought Robbins under investigation by the FBI and landed him, two years later, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In summer 1951 he created The Cage (Stravinsky), a headline-grabbing insect-ballet for Nora Kaye, which succeeded in establishing him, in the words of one critic, as “the first major choreographer in the native field.” He then escaped to Paris, Athens, and Israel, feeling himself pursued by the FBI and afraid to come home. At last he did return to NYCB to choreograph The Pied Piper (December 1951, Copland) and Ballade (February 1952, Debussy), and when the company went on tour the following summer to Barcelona, Paris, Lausanne, Florence, The Hague, London, and Edinburgh, the four newest Robbins ballets were featured and met with high acclaim. Robbins was himself dancing in The Pied Piper, Tyl Ulenspiegel, and The Prodigal Son, and at the end of the tour, he had had enough. He resolved not to perform as a dancer any more, but he did continue to take morning classes whenever he was active with City Ballet. At about this time Robbins gained a reputation for being able to “doctor” Broadway shows that appeared in rehearsal or tryouts to be headed for failure. It was George Abbott who first engaged him to spruce up the musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951) so that it enjoyed moderate success; Wish You Were Here (1952) and Wonderful Town (1953) also benefitted from Robbins’s interventions, none of which were credited to him in the playbills. He later contributed, without credit, to Silk Stockings (1954), Ankles Aweigh (1955), Seventh Heaven (1955), and, most famously – because Robbins is reputed to have saved the whole show by prompting Stephen Sondheim to create the opening “Comedy Tonight” number – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962). After many months of harassment, or the threat of it, by the FBI, Robbins was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in a special New York session at the US Courthouse in New York City on May 5, 1953. Before a salivating mob of spectators, reporters, and lawyers, he was grilled about his current attitude toward the Communist Party (of which he had actually once been a member) and about other persons who he knew had been involved. Remembering Ed Sullivan’s threat, and terrified that his sexual relationships with other men would be exposed, Robbins named names. The session lasted only about an hour, but his mortification persisted for his whole life, and he would never speak of it again. Because he had cooperated with the witch-hunters, he was not “blacklisted” and his career did not suffer materially, but he was never again on good personal terms with Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, or Gilford’s wife Madeline Lee. In 1954 Robbins and George Abbott co-directed The Pajama Game, a smash hit of 1,063 performances starring John Raitt and Janis Paige and introducing the extraordinary Carol Haney. Choreographing the show was newcomer Bob Fosse, whose work Robbins had seen in the Hollywood film of Kiss Me, Kate. Fosse acknowledged how much he benefitted from Robbins’s occasional tweaking of his Pajama Game creations (“Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Steam Heat”): “I learned more in a couple of hours watching him … than I had learned previously in my whole life.” Robbins’s next show, which he both directed and choreographed, was Peter Pan (1954) with Mary Martin. (It was subsequently recreated for the small screen in 1955, 1956, and 1960, and thus is now familiar to millions.) He then moved to Hollywood to oversee the dance sequences in the film version of The King and I, the very first of his stage successes to employ him for its adaptation to the silver screen. When Robbins returned to New York and the NYCB after his two-year absence, his first project was a comic ballet, The Concert: Or, the Perils of Everybody (to music of Chopin). Following that, on Broadway he directed and co-choreographed, with Bob Fosse, Bells Are Ringing (1956), starring Judy Holliday. The two choreographic collaborators shared a nomination for the 1957 Tony Award®. Meanwhile, during all of this busy year of 1956 the wheels were rolling under what was to be Robbins’s greatest achievement. In early 1955, Leonard Bernstein and bookwriter Arthur Laurents had been brainstorming over a new show when they asked Robbins to join their team. Robbins had no patience with their concept, which he called “trash,” and proposed – as he had done before – his own “more noble” project: a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He had been mulling it in his mind for at least seven years, and now that teen gang violence was making headlines in New York City, he could clearly see how the old story would fit into a contemporary mold. With the addition of fledgling lyricist Stephen Sondheim in late 1955, the creative team for the Romeo musical now numbered four, and over the winter they were all able to meet together frequently to exchange ideas and inspire one another. This period of productivity was for Robbins “one of the most exciting I’ve had in the theater,” and the shape of West Side Story was more or less fixed by the time Robbins left for Hollywood. The show’s gestation would be a protracted one; Bernstein was busy with a production of Candide (aside from his usual other overcommitments), Laurents was writing the screenplay for Anastasia, and Robbins was up to his ears in The King and I and Bells are Ringing. The search for a producer for such an unusual, innovative, and risky project as West Side Story was arduous; even much of the cast selection had been made before Robert Griffiths and Harold S. Prince consented to back the show. It went into a long rehearsal period in February 1957, and by the time it opened in September, the solidarity of the creative team was beginning to crumble. Robbins’s insistence upon his own vision, which involved time-consuming Method preparation and exercises that the others considered pointless, was undoubtedly at the root of the problem. It didn’t help that when the critics’ rave notices appeared, Jerome Robbins was singled out for the highest praise, leaving Laurents and even Bernstein in the shadows, and neglecting Sondheim almost entirely. At the Tony Awards®, West Side Story was overshadowed by Meredith Willson’s The Music Man in every category except scene design (Oliver Smith) and choreography; Robbins was awarded his second Tony®. Just before West Side Story had opened in New York – when Robbins had no time to think about it – Gian Carlo Menotti had extended an invitation to him to gather together a ballet company and bring it to Menotti’s new summer festival in Spoleto, Italy. Robbins began to act upon the suggestion in early 1958, collecting a troupe that would include Tommy Abbott, Todd Bolender, Sondra Lee, and Patricia Dunn and choreographing a new ballet especially for it, New York Export: Opus Jazz. Their full program, dubbed Jerome Robbins’ Ballets: U.S.A., was produced in the fall, upon their return from Europe, by Leland Hayward in 44 performances at the Alvin Theatre. It included a new work, 3 x 3, and two older Robbins dances as well: The Concert and Afternoon of a Faun (choreographed back in 1953 to the music of Debussy). Robbins had agreed to direct and choreograph a new musical based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee even before West Side Story was mounted, but since he was busy with Ballet: U.S.A. and a London production of West Side Story, the initial creation of the script and score for Gypsy (1959) was left to bookwriter Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and composer Jule Styne. Although the stars (Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman, Sandra Church), Robbins and the conductor, the scenery and costumes, and the show itself (produced by David Merrick and Leland Hayward) received Tony® nominations, Gypsy lost out to The Sound of Music and Fiorello! – a tie – for Best Musical that year. The 1959 return of Ballets: U.S.A. to Spoleto was produced in association with the United States International Cultural Program – actually the propaganda arm of the State Department – and the tour extended to Paris, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Salzburg, Belgrade, Dubrovnik, Athens, Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, West Berlin, Warsaw, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Monte Carlo, and Reykjavik. The repertory was the same as in 1958, except that 3 x 3 was replaced by a new and initially controversial ballet, Moves: A Ballet in Silence about Relationships. (Understandably, in its effort to win hearts and minds the U.S. Department of State hesitated to export a ballet without music, but when one enthused Copenhagen critic observed that it was “like having lost one sense and having another sharpened,” the DOS knew it had done the right thing.) This version of Ballet: U.S.A. did not reach Broadway until 1961. Robbins was engaged as choreographer for the film version of West Side Story (1961) – it really could not have been made without him – and he himself insisted upon being taken on as co-director with Robert Wise. But adapting the work for the screen turned out to be much more difficult than anyone but Robbins had anticipated, and his characteristically meticulous methods stretched both the shooting schedule and the budget to the breaking point. It appears in retrospect that as soon as the producers had squeezed everything they needed out of the choreographer, they fired him and let Wise proceed on his own. The movie was highly successful, winning ten Oscars® out of the eleven for which it was nominated, including Best Picture, and Wise and Robbins shared the Academy Award® for Best Director. This was the first time any director had won for his debut in the industry. At that same Academy Award® ceremony in 1962, Jerome Robbins received an Honorary Award “for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” The “brilliant achievements” (On the Town 1949, The King and I 1956, The Pajama Game 1957, Peter Pan 1960, and West Side Story) were not specified in the citation, because in some cases his choreographic contributions had not been credited. Disappointed with the lukewarm reception of Events, his next work for Ballets: U.S.A., Robbins decided to try his hand at directing a “straight” play (without music), Arthur Kopit’s unconventional comedy Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1962). It caused a sensation off-Broadway and ran for more than a year, moving to Broadway for a short run of 47 performances in 1963. Hard on the heels of Oh Dad came another stage play, Bertolt Brecht’s stark and uncompromisingly anti-war Mother Courage and Her Children (1963), which Robbins co-produced with Cheryl Crawford as well as staged. Despite a run of only 52 performances, the play was well received and nominated for four Tony Awards®. Robbins’s next directorial assignment was the Jule Styne/Bob Merrill musical on the life of Fanny Brice, which was to be called Funny Girl (1964) and would launch the mainstream career of Barbra Streisand. Frustrated by the ineptness of the script, Robbins quit and was succeeded by a string of other luminaries who also quit in their turn, until at the last minute Streisand begged the producer to bring Robbins back. Garson Kanin remained billed as the director, Robbins as “Production Supervisor,” and the show, with 1,348 performances, was a smash hit. After a summer of experimental dance-creation in Spoleto (Ballets: U.S.A. had dissolved after a White House appearance and a Madison Square Garden gala celebrating John F. Kennedy’s birthday), Robbins took on the directorship of a new musical tentatively titled To Life! – “the only show since West Side Story,” he claimed, “that has me really excited.” With a book by Joseph Stein adapted from stories by Sholem Aleichem, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, it was set in an eastern European shtetl and was about – as the authors apparently needed Robbins to tell them – “the disintegration of a way of life.” Back when Jerome Rabinowitz was a child of five, his mother had taken him and his sister to the village of Rozhanka in eastern Poland to visit his grandfather for the summer. He had treasured the memory as “all lovely, all lovely” ever since. Thirty-five years later, while on the State Department tour with Ballets: U.S.A., he had made a trip to the site of the shtetl and found it “liquidated” – its houses leveled, its streets obliterated, its shul turned into a stable. His childhood memories, overlaid by the shock of that more recent experience, still resonated powerfully in Robbins’s consciousness, and when he read Stein’s script, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the show. Although his hope of getting Marc Chagall to design the production was not to be fulfilled, the new title of the musical was derived from the work of that painter: Fiddler on the Roof. Opening in September 1964, it starred Zero Mostel as Tevye, and with some of the most unusual choreography ever seen on Broadway, it set a record with 3,242 performances. Robbins won two Tony Awards®, one for direction and one for choreography, and the musical ran away with Tonys® in seven more categories, including Best Musical. In latter years it has been produced all over the world and revived on Broadway four times. The original production won its tenth Tony®, a Special in 1972, upon reaching its mark as the longest-running show in Broadway history. Meanwhile, Lucia Chase’s American Ballet Theatre was languishing for lack of cash; she begged Jerome Robbins to return to the company as director. He refused, but seized upon the occasion of the company’s 25th anniversary to realize his long-held ambition to choreograph Stravinsky’s Les Noces. It was presented at the newly built New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center on March 30, 1965, to great acclaim, giving ABT an effective and much needed shot in the arm. In 1966 Robbins gave up a chance to join Britain’s National Theatre when the National Endowment for the Arts granted him $300,000 to set up the American Theatre Lab. For two years he guided hand-picked singing actor-dancers through movement studies, exercises with masks, and rehearsals of experimental works, but no productions ever came to light out of these workshops – except for one musical that was written by one of the students while he was sitting on the sidelines during classes: Hair. Robbins was asked, but did not direct that show. A number of new projects presented themselves, but all fell through; Robbins seems to have spent most of his time for the next few years in a whirl of social functions, romantic affairs, and travels. At last, in 1969 Lincoln Kirstein asked him to return to the New York City Ballet with a new work for their 25th-anniversary gala in May. Jerry Robbins consented and, happy to be home again after thirteen years, created Dances at a Gathering to music of Chopin. For the next decade and more, he worked principally with the New York City Ballet, becoming ballet master in 1972. Among the works he created during this period were The Goldberg Variations (1971), Watermill (1972), four new ballets for the week-long 1972 Stravinsky Festival at New York’s State Theater, Dybbuk (1974) – his last and not entirely satisfactory collaboration with Leonard Bernstein –, five new dances for a Ravel Festival in 1975, The Four Seasons (1979, to Verdi), and Gershwin Concerto (1982). In 1976 he accepted a commission to create a piece for Russian defector stars Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Other Dances, which was premiered as part of a spectacular fund-raiser for the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, called Star-Spangled Gala. After that performance, New York mayor Abe Beame presented Robbins with the City’s highest cultural honor, the Handel Medallion. After Fiddler on the Roof, which closed in 1972, Broadway saw no new pieces of musical theatre from the fecund imagination of Jerome Robbins. Yet there was hardly a moment when one of his shows was not being revived under his supervision: On the Town in 1971, Gypsy in 1974, Fiddler in 1976 and again in 1981, The King and I in 1977 and 1985, Peter Pan in 1979, West Side Story in 1980. (All these shows, plus Funny Girl, have had later Broadway revivals as well.) During the 1980s, television tardily began to pick up on the wealth of Robbins material: in 1980 NBC aired “Live From Studio 8H: An Evening of Jerome Robbins’ Ballets” with members of the New York City Ballet, winning two Primetime Emmys. A 1986 PBS installment of “Dance in America” presented a retrospective of Robbins’s choreography, which led indirectly to the creation of the Tony Award®-winning Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989. This anthology of his best work, which Robbins himself directed, incorporated excerpts from On the Town, Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!, The King and I (“The Small House of Uncle Thomas”), High Button Shoes (including the hysterical Keystone Kops routine “On a Sunday by the Sea”), six numbers from West Side Story, three from Fiddler on the Roof, and a dance (“Mr. Monotony”) that had been cut from both Miss Liberty and Call Me Madam. The show won a raft of awards, including the Tony® for Best Musical, Tonys® for Best Actor, Best Featured Actor and Actress, Best Lighting, and for Best Direction of a Musical, Jerome Robbins’s fifth. His work with the New York City Ballet continued until the very end of his life; many of the ballets Robbins composed after the death of George Balanchine in 1983 could be interpreted as memorials, not just to his great mentor, but to departed friends: Glass Pieces (music by Philip Glass), I’m Old-Fashioned: The Astaire Variations, Antique Epigraphs (Debussy), a collaboration with Twyla Tharp called Brahms/Handel, In Memory Of … (1985, to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto), Quiet City (in memory of dancer Joseph Duell), and Ives, Songs. Robbins sustained serious injury to his head in a bicycle accident in 1990, and began to have problems with his hearing, his vision, and his balance; this, and heart-valve surgery in 1994, began to tell on his health. Nonetheless, he continued to work, creating A Suite of Dances to music of Bach for Baryshnikov, 2 & 3 Part Inventions for students at the School of American Ballet, Brandenburg for the City Ballet in 1997, and a final staging of Les Noces (his first and only choreography to be accompanied by a recording) for NYCB in May 1998. Two months later he suffered a massive stroke and died at his home in New York on July 29. That evening the lights of Broadway were dimmed for a moment in his memory; he was cremated and his ashes were scattered on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean near his beach house in Bridgehampton, Long Island. Jerome Robbins was bisexual. He was engaged, but never married, to dancer Nora Kaye in the early 1950s and had a powerful lifelong attachment to Balanchine’s fourth wife, Tanaquil Le Clercq, a brilliant ballet star who was stricken with polio in 1956 and never walked again. He had a two-year relationship with actor Montgomery Clift and lived for four years with dancer and choreographer Buzz Miller. Other liaisons, nearly all of which gracefully morphed into fast friendships, included composer Ned Rorem, Slim Hayward (wife of Leland Hayward), Tommy Abbott (West Side Story dancer and choreographic assistant), and Lee Becker (West Side Story dancer). Robbins was somewhat bewildered by the amount of money he amassed over his lifetime, and – having no heirs or family besides his sister – was always open-handed to his friends. In 1987 he established the Jerome Robbins Archive of the Recorded Moving Image at the Dance Collection of the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts, and in his will he left the Library an additional five million dollars. He named forty-one other beneficiaries as well. At the end of his life Robbins had collected a Kennedy Center Honors Award (1981), the National Medal of Arts (1988), the French Legion of Honor, three honorary doctorates, and an Honorary Membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In the years since his death, two comprehensive biographies, each well over 600 pages long, have been published: Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theatre, His Dance (2004) by Deborah Jowitt, and Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins (2008) by Amanda Vaill. A documentary about his life and work, Something to Dance About, was shown on PBS in 2009.

– Lucy E. Cross