When their son Jerry was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1918, his parents Lena and Harry Rabinowitz couldn’t have envisioned that he would become one of the most famous choreographers of the 20th century. By the time Jerome Robbins died in 1998, he had choreographed groundbreaking ballets; directed and/or choreographed the Tony Award-winning Broadway shows On the Town, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof; and been associate artistic director of New York City Ballet for almost fifty years.
This centennial year is seeing celebrations of Jerry—as he was known to friends and family—around the world. The four works on Program 04, Robbins: Ballet & Broadway, show the wide-ranging talent that makes Robbins’ works classics a full hundred years after his birth.
Robbins choreographed Fancy Free (1944) at age 26, and it changed his life. An instant hit, it launched his Broadway career when it was expanded into On the Town. The Cage (1951) was one of Robbins’ first works for New York City Ballet. Set to a score by Igor Stravinsky, it proved that Robbins could hold his own next to George Balanchine—Stravinsky’s greatest collaborator—without copying him: The Cage’s frank sexuality and creature-like movement are a far cry from the abstraction and classicism of Balanchine’s work in the early ’50s.
Other Dances (1976) is the last of Robbins’ ballets to the music of Frédéric Chopin, completing the quartet of The Concert, Dances at a Gathering, and In the Night. Made for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, this ballet shows the lyrical and nostalgic side of Robbins. And Opus 19/The Dreamer (1979), also made for Baryshnikov but this time with Patricia McBride, is a psychological meditation. Baryshnikov said of the role, “He’s a bit of an outsider, a bit of a loner, a bit of a thinking man; there’s a bit of action, a bit of unrealized romance, which is very much Jerry’s life.”