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A Brilliant Tyrant

City Ballet’s spring tribute to Jerome Robbins, creative genius and tantrum-thrower.

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To most New Yorkers, Jerome Robbins is That Guy Who Did West Side Story. But to a generation of dancers at NewYork City Ballet—and a few odd stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov—he was much more: a meticulous, tireless worker; a genius choreographer who excelled at creating a mood; and a frequent terror, rehearsing pieces into the ground. “I’ve never spent so much time on a pas de deux in my life,” says Peter Martins of The Goldberg Variations. “It was a very—how should I put it?—semi-tedious process.” Christine Redpath, who now teaches the Robbins repertory at City Ballet, counted herself among a coterie the choreographer dubbed “Robbins girls”—a nucleus of dancers he used frequently, “maybe because we could A–No. 1 let his temper tantrums ride over us, keep track of all his different versions, and keep fairly clearheaded.” But for all the frustrations that accompanied rehearsing with him, Robbins attracted a fervent set of admirers, and for good reason: His ballets—unlike Balanchine’s grand, classical pieces—privileged understatement above all else, zeroing in on simple human movement to create a rich atmosphere. Dancers still love his less-is-more approach, evident in the many classic and lesser-known Robbins works they’ll perform starting Tuesday as part of City Ballet’s season dedicated to the choreographer. Allegra Kent still giggles when thinking of, well, “the Giggle Dance” Robbins cast her in for Dances at a Gathering. “Jerry would toss us something, we’d bounce it back to him— it was a lark. It’s a dream to work with a choreographer when they’re creating something [based] on your particular idiosyncrasies, because it’s you, but it’s a different you.” But the dream wasn’t placid. Martins, now director of City Ballet, admits that Robbins never ceased to fascinate him. “At the end of the day, he kept you guessing. Did he like you? Did he like you more than the day before? Did he like you less? And I’ll tell you— I never knew.”

New York City Ballet: Jerome Robbins
New York State Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
20 Lincoln Square, at 66th St.; 212-870-5500


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