Robbins took one look at it, immediately grouped the dancers into threes, and assigned each of them a goal and a unique variation on Fosse's existing choreography. He ran it once, and all the problems were solved. The number went on to be a show-stopper. It took Robbins about three hours.
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In his private life, he was capable of spontaneous generosity, but he maintained friendships with very few people. Romantically he was bisexual, leaning toward homosexual, and the book is very good about his relationships, many of which ended in ruin; the one that endured, in off-again, on-again form for decades, was with Montgomery Clift.
One of the things I like best about this book is that Greg Lawrence neither demonizes nor whitewashes his subject, seeking instead to understand him. And I have to say that in the end we understand Robbins' bad behavior much more clearly than we understand where his astonishing talent came from.source
Actors recall living in fear of Jerome Robbins — yet dying to work with him
But I'm not sure we understand that about anyone. View 1 comment. Jul 20, Michael rated it liked it. Biographies -- I've been in the mood, obviously.
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But why Jerome Robbins? You can sum the guy up in two words: genius asshole -- and really, is that the kind of company you'd care to keep for pages? Dec 31, Steph rated it liked it. Jennifer rated it really liked it Aug 28, Miriam Jacobs rated it it was ok Jan 13, Narti rated it did not like it May 24, Nancy rated it it was amazing Jun 02, Stacey rated it really liked it Jul 13, Annmarie rated it really liked it Feb 01, Elizabeth rated it it was amazing Nov 28, Lynn Tweedie rated it really liked it Nov 11, Ellie rated it it was amazing Aug 31, Peter Rothblatt rated it did not like it Sep 12, Glad rated it it was amazing Nov 07, Ryan rated it really liked it Aug 23, Amy M Weissenburger rated it really liked it May 22, Sasha Conley rated it really liked it Dec 26, Ara rated it it was ok Jul 25, Evelyn rated it liked it Jan 03, Laura rated it really liked it Aug 16, Steve Rappaport rated it really liked it Sep 22, Gary Stavella rated it really liked it Mar 16, Susan rated it really liked it Jan 01, Angel rated it liked it Jun 22, Scott Fuchs rated it really liked it Oct 14, Stanley Clay rated it liked it Jan 17, Cristian rated it it was amazing Jul 11, Rochelle rated it did not like it Jun 17, Aryn rated it liked it Mar 14, There are no discussion topics on this book yet.
About Greg Lawrence. Again and again, they seemed to say that ballet could be down-to-earth, ours. After "Fiddler on the Roof," in , Robbins, to what I imagine was the cork-popping joy of his Broadway competitors, walked out on musical comedy.
Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins
By now, he could afford to. Broadway made him rich. He left an estate of thirty million dollars, and that was after giving a lot of money away, notably to the Dance Collection—recently renamed the Jerome Robbins Dance Division—of the New York Public Library, which, since , has been receiving a percentage of his profits from "Fiddler. He founded American Theatre Laboratory, a ten-member collective that for two years did such things as stage a "happening" and experiment with a Noh play about the Kennedy assassination.
Finally, at the end of the sixties, Robbins went back to New York City Ballet and in a sudden gush of invention created the piece for which he will probably be best remembered: "Dances at a Gathering.
Now, in "Dances at a Gathering," he wedded abstraction to the upbeat temper of his musical-comedy work and produced a long, expansive ballet in which ten young people just danced for an hour to Chopin piano pieces. Robbins's abstraction never went as far as Balanchine's.
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In Balanchine, dance is metaphor; in Robbins, it is still representation. Though "Dances at a Gathering" has no story, there are little skits and character studies tucked into it. But for many spectators a bit of representation was just fine. Here at last was a real American ballet, in which, without the help of sailors or jazz or any other overt Americanism, the dancers looked like us or what we thought we were —young, spontaneous, free, under an open sky—and at the same time confidently assimilated European art: Chopin, academic dance. This was , when New York painters had finally captured the flag from Paris, and when American youth culture was changing the world.
The ebullience of that period is written all over "Dances at a Gathering," and made people proud and happy to see the piece. But the approach was largely the same: emotionalized abstraction, the meditations of a sophisticated mind in love with simplicity. That was Robbins's career. And what, to Greg Lawrence, is the main theme of it? How mean Robbins was. His working methods, to start with, were punishing to his dancers. Because he could never make up his mind, he double- and triple-cast roles, so that the dancers never knew if they were actually going to go on.
Then he made them learn multiple versions of the dance—again, he couldn't decide—so that if indeed they got onstage they barely knew what to do. Then there was the personal cruelty. He screamed at dancers, insulted their work, insulted their bodies. Once, in a Broadway rehearsal, Robbins was backing up, downstage, to get a better view of the dance, and coming perilously close to the edge of the orchestra pit. Everyone saw what was happening, but no one said a word.
I think he fell into the bass drums. Nobody went to his rescue, not for quite a while. Lawrence says Robbins had "demons. Nor did he enjoy being homosexual. Bisexual, actually. And, apparently, his whole life long he resented the fact that his father had tried to stop him from going into dance, told him it was for sissies. To my knowledge, nine out of ten male ballet dancers in the United States had that experience, but Robbins had another, related experience. Like hundreds of other American artists, he had once joined the Communist Party, and had signed petitions and helped stage benefits.
But, presumably because he was homosexual and feared exposure—though other homosexual artists, such as Aaron Copland and Marc Blitzstein, stood firm—he could not face down the committee. His testimony makes shameful reading. He fell over himself to name names. Afterward, he was doubly so, and that is the story of "Dance with Demons.
Of course Lawrence tells us what dances Robbins made and with whom. The book is six hundred pages long. But he offers almost no critical commentary on the dances. Nor are we told much of anything about their context. Jews in the thirties, the role of "art" choreographers in Broadway dance, postwar existentialism, the postwar triumph of Freudian theory Robbins was in analysis , the question of ballet's place in America, the relationship between acting and dancing in ballet, the vogue of Method acting and its cult of pedagogical brutality , the history of musical-comedy dancing, and of New York City Ballet for example, how Robbins's return in coincided with the beginning of a terrible fallow period for Balanchine, who had just been abandoned by Suzanne Farrell : these matters, which have direct bearing on Robbins's career, are either ignored by Lawrence or simply waved at in passing.
It's as if he were born yesterday. In his preface, he notes, as a supposedly telltale fact evidence of "conflict" , that Robbins, who was born in , kept his affairs with men "as clandestine as possible. How was it for this reportedly insecure man to spend two decades working alongside the person he knew to be the greatest dance artist of the century? Lawrence does something with this—or he pastes up a lot of quotations—but his account is remarkably un-nuanced. As he sees it, Balanchine loved Robbins's work and did what he could to keep him happy. When the two men were composing ballets at the same time, he often gave Robbins first pick of the dancers and took what was left—an extraordinary courtesy.
When dancers came weeping to him over Robbins's nastiness, he calmed them down, cracked jokes "If you had no hair on your head and a big gray beard, you'd be unhappy, too" , and got them back into the studio. But I suspect that Robbins's sense of his inferiority to Balanchine was not unshared by Balanchine.
Dance With Demons: The Life Of Jerome Robbins by Greg Lawrence -
One of the company's dancers told me that she once sat down with Balanchine to watch "The Cage," Robbins's tale of female violence against men. There's a long streak of misogyny in his work. She had seen it before, and Balanchine said to her, "This time, close your eyes, just listen to the music," the music being Stravinsky's Concerto in D.