One of the titans among choreographers of the 20th century, Jerome Robbins will be celebrated by a number of ballet companies worldwide in 2018 for the centennial of his birth. He died in 1998 at age 79 after a prolific career. His rare talent enabled him to direct and choreograph Broadway hits (West Side Story, On the Town and Fiddler on the Roof, among many) and to create sublime ballets, such as Afternoon of a Faun for New York City Ballet; Fancy Free (his first ballet) for American Ballet Theatre; and NY Export: Opus Jazz for his short-lived troupe Ballets: U.S.A.
Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet and former principal dancer with NYCB, worked closely with Robbins. "I always describe Jerry as the quintessential American choreographer," says Lopez. "He really understood America and American feelings." She recalls the serendipity of two strikingly different geniuses, Robbins and George Balanchine, working in the NYCB studios: "Mr. B would say, 'Show me what you want to do with this.' Jerry said, 'Here are the steps and the character.' We could not ad lib. We had to become those characters." Lopez also lauds the enormity and diversity of Robbins' genius, which embraced everything from the spot-on comedic timing of The Concert to the humanistic Dances at a Gathering.
Among the legendary muses who inspired Robbins were Tanaquil Le Clercq, Allegra Kent, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Suzanne Farrell. Robbins' partnership with composer Leonard Bernstein produced seminal collaborations: West Side Story, Fancy Free, On the Town and Dybbuk.
"He stretched your imagination and intelligence," says Lopez, and notes that his ballets required dancers to think deeply about their characters. Dancers also needed to be prepared for his demanding perfectionism. "He could nail it when you were faking it," she adds.
Robbins' life and career will be honored by numerous companies around the globe this spring. Here's a roundup of what's on tap:
- Miami City Ballet: Jerome Robbins Celebration, January 12–February 4, with six works, including three company premieres—Circus Polka, The Cage and Other Dances. Miami City Ballet is also performing Afternoon of a Faun, In the Night, and Other Dances on May 25 during Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina.
- The Joffrey Ballet: Modern Masters program with Glass Pieces, February 7–18.
- Cincinnati Ballet: Fancy Free on its March 15–18 Director's Cut: Musical Masters series.
- San Francisco Ballet: Four pieces celebrate Robbins' and Leonard Bernstein's centennials March 20–25 in Robbins: Ballet & Broadway.
- English National Ballet: The Cage on its April 12–21 Voices of America program.
- New York City Ballet: Robbins 100 runs May 3–20, featuring 19 Robbins ballets and a world premiere by Justin Peck, in tribute to Robbins and set to a Bernstein score.
- Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: A program running May 4–6 features West Side Story Suite, Fancy Free and In the Night.