Ballet Meets Broadway

SF Ballet in Robbins’ Fancy Free // © Erik Tomasson

It may come as a surprise to Broadway and ballet audiences that the two art forms have a long and intertwined history. Some of the best-loved artists in ballet have crossed over into Broadway and brought their experience back to ballet, creating pop-culture hits and classical favorites.

The choreographer best known for merging ballet with Broadway is Jerome Robbins. In addition to his most famous work, the 1957 Broadway musical turned 1961 Hollywood movie West Side Story (which earned 10 Academy Awards), Robbins also directed and/or choreographed Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Pan, On the Town, The King and I, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, Gypsy, Miss Liberty, and Call Me Madam. All while he was taking a break from creating ballets like Fancy Free, Other Dances, Opus 19/The Dreamer, and The Cage for ballet companies.

Robbins wasn’t the only ballet choreographer working on Broadway in the 1940s and 1950s—his New York City Ballet colleague George Balanchine did too, working on more than 20 Broadway productions, including On Your Toes. He often employed ballet dancers in these shows—something you still see today with several ballet starts making the leap to Broadway in the past few years, including New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Robert Fairchild, and former San Francisco Ballet dancers Garen Scribner and Shannon Rugani.

SF Ballet rehearsing Wheeldon’s Bound©// © Erik Tomasson


More recently, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon made the leap to Broadway in 2002 with Sweet Smell of Success after a long career at New York City Ballet. In 2014, Wheeldon made a huge splash in Times Square with An American in Paris, which went on to win a Tony for best choreography. Though still very much a ballet choreographer—he has a new work appearing in the Unbound festival—An American in Paris sparked something new in Wheeldon, and he returned to theater last year with Brigadoon, at The New York City Center.

SF Ballet rehearsing Peck’s Hurry Up, We're Dreaming // © Erik Tomasson

A second New York City Ballet star and Unbound creator is also feeling out Broadway: Justin Peck. Making his Broadway debut as the choreographer of a revival of Carousel this year, he’s working on developing a movement vocabulary for actors who don’t have much dance training.

How will Wheeldon and Peck’s time on Broadway influence their new works for Unbound? Come see Unbound A, featuring Wheeldon’s Bound©, Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, and Alonzo King’s The Collective Agreement, to find out.