Jerome Rob­bins: His Life, His The­ater, His Dance

Deb­o­rah Jowitt
  • Review
By – August 27, 2012

Artistry/​anguish, inspiration/​involution, brilliance/​belligerence, are com­mon dichotomies for cre­ative lumi­nar­ies, includ­ing dancer and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Jerome Rob­bins, born Jerome Wil­son Rabi­nowitz. Here, a well-known writer on dance views Rob­bins’ long career, which coin­cid­ed with the ascen­dan­cy of Jews in musi­cal the­atre and film, and more unique­ly for Rob­bins, in dance. 

Although Rob­bins’ scathing crit­i­cism of both per­form­ers and col­leagues soured many of his rela­tion­ships, Jowitt notes that dancers accept­ed his bruis­ing out­bursts with less shriv­el­ing than did Broad­way and film actors — per­haps because he was a fine dancer and of their world. 

Two ele­ments tore at Rob­bins — being a Jew and being homo­sex­u­al. Yet both pro­vid­ed an iden­ti­ty he accept­ed. His Jew­ish­ness was eas­i­ly accom­mo­dat­ed by pre­vail­ing mid-cen­tu­ry tal­ents on Broad­way; and in bal­let, even­tu­al­ly he immersed him­self in the dance world of Israel, where sex­u­al liaisons were of no mat­ter. Rob­bins’ per­sona did mat­ter when he talked” to the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee. He claimed that his two fears — rev­e­la­tion of his sex­u­al pref­er­ence, and of his iden­ti­ty as a Jew — over­whelmed him. His coop­er­a­tion with HUAC plagued him subsequently. 

Names and pro­duc­tions asso­ci­at­ed with him fill the book. That he cre­at­ed, direct­ed and chore­o­graphed musi­cals and pure dance pro­duc­tions, often simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, with out­stand­ing cre­ativ­i­ty and inten­si­ty in both, marks his genius. Hol­ly­wood was an aside— detailed, but an aside. Cer­tain­ly, the book’s abun­dant infor­ma­tion about dance makes it a trea­sure for any bal­letomane, and almost equal­ly so for Broad­way the­atre fans. Acknowl­edge­ments, after­word, bib­lio., index, notes. 46 b/​w photos.

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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