It’s a legend that even now, 20 years after Jerome Robbins’ dying, threatens to outline him: Whereas berating his actors, he stepped farther and farther again on stage till he toppled into the orchestra pit.
And nobody stated a phrase to cease him.
Some say the present was “Name Me Madam,” “Excessive Button Footwear” or “Billion Greenback Child.” (An eyewitness tells The Publish it was, in reality, “West Facet Story.”) However the underlying message is similar: The choreographer and director was a terror to work with. Final month, after a “Chicago” actor killed himself following what was reportedly a brutish rehearsal, many recalled Robbins and his penchant for pushing dancers and actors to the breaking level.
Nonetheless, it’s exhausting to think about Broadway or the ballet with out him. Which is why Robbins — who was born 100 years in the past and died at 79 on July 29, 1998 — is as revered as he’s reviled. His centennial 12 months is being celebrated throughout the nation and in Germany, France and the Netherlands. On Aug. 9, there shall be a tribute aboard the Intrepid in Manhattan, with performances and panels moderated by Robbins biographer Amanda Vaill.
In ballets and such musicals as “West Facet Story,” “Peter Pan,” “The King and I” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” Robbins introduced a naturalism to bounce and motion that was revolutionary — cause sufficient why those that survived each him and his wrath are likely to recall the grasp, not the monster.
Jerome Robbins throughout a 1974 rehearsal
“Stephen Sondheim stated that Robbins was the one genius he’s ever recognized,” stated Vaill, who had entry to the director’s diaries and papers whereas writing 2006’s “Someplace: The Lifetime of Jerome Robbins.”
And he was, she factors out, self-taught: Unable to afford greater than a 12 months at NYU, younger Jerome Rabinowitz dropped out and ferried between Weehawken, NJ — the place his father urged him to hitch the household corset enterprise — and New York, the place he kick-started his dance profession.
Alongside the way in which, he developed what Vaill calls “a type of tunnel imaginative and prescient — as soon as he’d seen what he needed, nothing else was essential.” Within the title of artwork, he’d make actors and dancers undergo their paces repeatedly, typically screaming at them and hurling insults.
“Jerry not solely attacked you, he attacked your loved ones, your background, the place you lived, the way you lived, who you studied with,” Tony Mordente, a “West Facet Story” forged member, instructed biographer Greg Lawrence.
But Mordente and plenty of different stars say they owe their careers to him.
“The acute battle between his admirers and disparagers made my e book an emotional ordeal to jot down,” Lawrence instructed The Publish of his 2001 biography, “Dance with Demons: The Lifetime of Jerome Robbins.”
A perfectionist, Robbins was even exhausting on his collaborators, together with “West Facet Story” composer Leonard Bernstein.
“My father needed to wrestle with so many points of Jerry’s difficult character,” Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, instructed The Publish. “He was impolite and imperious and harsh and terrible to artists . . . and but my father managed to set it apart and go on working with Jerry.”
Jerome Robbins circa 1950Getty ImagesBut others by no means forgave him — if not for his cruelty, than for naming names earlier than the Home Un-American Actions Committee (HUAC) within the 1950s.
As his biographers found, Robbins dropped the dime on his colleagues much less from worry of being blacklisted than that of being outed. A bisexual whose biggest love, many imagine, was for a ballerina — Tanaquil LeClerc, the spouse of his idol, George Balanchine — Robbins additionally had affairs with males, Montgomery Clift amongst them. Not solely did he worry his household’s wrath, however homosexuality was then punishable by jail.
Like many artists, he’d flirted with communism and the post-World Battle II concept of Soviet-American friendship. All of the whereas, the FBI was watching him. So was Ed Sullivan.
A decade earlier than he launched the Beatles, Sullivan was placing worry into the hearts of leftists by vetting them for his TV present, generally writing damning objects about them in his newspaper column. In 1950, Sullivan pressed Robbins to disclose his actions and that of his fellow Soviet sympathizers, one in all them Robbins’ sister. When Robbins refused, Sullivan canceled his look.
However three years later, subpoenaed as a “pleasant witness,” Robbins caved. He gave HUAC the names of eight celebration members, seven of whom, Vaill stated, had been already recognized. Robbins later instructed “West Facet Story” author Arthur Laurents that he wouldn’t know “for years” whether or not he’d achieved the appropriate factor.
“Oh, I can inform you now,” Laurents replied. “You had been a s–t.”
Zero Mostel overtly disdained Robbins. Blacklisted himself, although not by way of Robbins’ doing, the burly actor noticed his movie profession wither and die. Nonetheless, he knew a genius when he noticed one, and went on to star in 1964’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” which Robbins choreographed and directed.
Sheldon Harnick, the present’s lyricist, remembers that first fraught day of rehearsal, and the way he and the forged awaited Robbins’ arrival. When he lastly got here in, Harnick stated, “He and Mostel checked out one another. Then Zero stated, ‘Hello, there, blabbermouth!’ and everybody broke up.”
Even so, there was all the time stress between the forged and their director, who by no means left a single second of a present to probability — and did no matter he needed to do to make his imaginative and prescient actual.
“Possibly I’ve tried to blot it out from my reminiscence,” Harnick, now 94, instructed The Publish, “however Jerry could possibly be merciless, particularly to a few of the ladies. If he had a criticism, he would categorical it in a very chilly and merciless means.”
Austin Pendleton, who performed the present’s timid Motel the tailor, remembers one lacerating encounter so private, he instructed Robbins’ assistant to not let the director speak to him once more for every week. And Robbins obeyed: “He’d say, ‘Inform Austin to cross left,’ after which, every week to the day, he was supportive once more, and my efficiency had actually pulled collectively.”
Jerome Robbins circa 1965Getty ImagesNow a director himself, Pendleton stated, “He was more durable on himself than anybody else.”
Had Robbins not been a director, he might need been a puppeteer. Or so he instructed Carol Lawrence, who performed Maria in 1957’s “West Facet Story,” when he confirmed her his puppet assortment. It was a great metaphor for a way he noticed the world.
“He needed full management,” she instructed The Publish. “You had been beneath his fingertips.”
A agency believer within the methodology college of performing, Robbins inspired off-stage enmity between his actors, generally with violent outcomes.
Below Robbins’ route, Larry Kert — the Tony to Lawrence’s Maria — bought a nightly pummeling. “Hit him more durable!” Robbins urged her as they rehearsed the scene during which Maria assaults the person who killed her brother.
In the future, she recalled, Kert walked into her dressing room, his chest bandaged, and so in ache he might barely converse. “The physician stated you’re loosening my lungs from my rib cage,” he whispered. “However I can’t inform Jerry.”
As an alternative, Lawrence instructed him. “And with no second’s pause, Jerry stated, ‘So hit him within the head, you gained’t damage something there.’”
Jerome Robbins throughout a rehearsal in 1965Getty ImagesEven Bernstein, who wrote the music for that present, got here in for a pounding, no less than psychologically, when Robbins crossed out a few of his orchestrations.
Years later, at Bernstein’s memorial service, Laurents stated his “West Facet Story” collaborator was afraid of solely two issues: “God and Jerry Robbins.”
Many years earlier than Martin Charnin wrote and directed “Annie,” he performed a Jet in “West Facet Story.” He was, he instructed The Publish proudly, the primary individual to sing “Gee, Officer Krupke, Krup you!” on a Broadway stage.
Now 83, he remembers watching Robbins fall into the pit. He stated it occurred throughout a rehearsal in Philadelphia.
“We needed to see how far he would go and he ended up going one step too far,” Charnin stated of himself and fellow Jets. Had the bass drum not damaged his fall, Robbins would have been badly damage. Why didn’t anybody cease him?
“I actually don’t know,” Charnin stated. “Possibly there was a collective second of tit for tat . . . I’d wish to imagine that it was only a mistake, and we had been terrified — we didn’t need him to get damage.
“For all of how powerful Jerry was, he additionally had one thing inside him that was actually good,” he continued, “and that goodness manifested itself within the work. He knew what he needed, and what I realized and utilized in my profession actually got here from a fountain referred to as Jerome Robbins.”
Jerome Robbins in 1988Getty ImagesChita Rivera, whose multi-Tony-winning profession took off after her position in “West Facet Story,” goes additional.
“All I do know is that I used to be in love with Jerry,” she instructed The Publish. “I keep in mind feeling euphoric after I noticed him work — it was simply so stunning, and so proper and on the nostril .
“He taught us the right way to be. After I was working by way of the door to the window after [the song] ‘A Boy Like That,’ he stated, ‘Don’t dance to the window. Might you simply return and stroll to the window?’
“He taught us the right way to dance as folks, not as dancers.”
It was dancers with whom Robbins selected to spend his final 20 years. After “Fiddler,” he and his “West Facet Story” group tried and didn’t get one other showcase the bottom. Disenchanted with Broadway, Robbins returned to the place he began, making the ballets which are nonetheless being danced in the present day.
“I feel with the ballet dancers, he had a barely gentler edge, although he might nonetheless rip and destroy somebody,” stated Christine Redpath, who teaches the Robbins repertoire at New York Metropolis Ballet. “He had just a few folks right here and there he’d beat into. I keep in mind one man being fully devastated, in tears . . . however he survived.”
It helped that Robbins cherished canine, his personal and everybody else’s. Considered one of Redpath’s golden retrievers got here in helpful through the making of no less than one ballet.
“When he was choreographing ‘Brandenburg’ within the early ’90s, the rehearsal pianist stated, ‘I’ll offer you cash should you convey Emma into the room!’ ” Redpath instructed The Publish. “So I did and he or she’d lie beneath Jerry’s seat. When he bought tense, he’d look down at her and he or she’d take a look at him and he’d smile and the temper would change.”
Others seen it, too. As “West Facet Story” dancer Grover Dale instructed biographer Greg Lawrence a 12 months after Robbins’ dying, “I typically questioned what the work would have been like had he been as candy to his dancers as he had been to his canine.
“Maybe ‘contentment’ and ‘being a genius’ don’t combine very effectively,” Dale stated.