Catch the Jerome Robbins documentary Feb. 18 on PBS

So, I made it to the big-screen screening (where, from the fourth row, all the talking heads were enormous) at the Dance on Camera festival last night and can attest to the doc’s excellence.

I’ve read both authorized biographies–the first and more dance-specific by Deborah Jowitt, the second, more biographically oriented, by Amanda Vaill, both wonderful–and certainly understand that Jerome Robbins made his name on Broadway, but to see clips of the shows he directed and choreographed is something else again. Number after number is so whiz bang and brilliant, it’s no wonder the likes of Sondheim and Bernstein can’t stop calling him a genius.

Plus,  there are a few clips of Robbins in his youth dancing: it makes immediate sense why Balanchine would have revived “Prodigal Son” for him and why, as a choreographer, Robbins was drawn to the shades of untamed animal (in “The Afternoon of a Faun”) and the Dionysian spirit (in “West Side Story” and “The Dybbuk,” for example). As a young man, he’s a headlong dancer–rough-edged, full-bodied, fearless.

Robbins-Mak- Baryshmed.jpg

Robbins, Natalia Makarova, Baryshnikov rehearsing “Other Dances” (1976) for a later Dance in America broadcast (Photo by Brownie Harris for WNET/13, 1980.)

The documentary is called “Something to Dance About” and is directed by Judy Kinberg, who did all those incredible Balanchine Dance in America
programs in the 1970s.
Check local listings for the exact evening hour on Wednesday February 18. 

For a taste of the archival footage in the film, here is a YouTube clip of “The Afternoon of a Faun” (1953) with New York City Ballet dancers Tanaquil LeClerq, for whom Robbins made the ballet (made all of his ballets, he attests, as an old man), and Jacques d’Amboise.


If you don’t know much about Robbins beyond “West Side Story,” here is a short feature and interviews
about the man with ballet dancers Wendy Whelan, Damien Woetzel, and, ahem, Mikhail
Baryshnikov, on the occasion of the New York City Ballet’s Robbins
celebration last spring.

And if you’d like to see some of his ballets, don’t forget you can now do so for all of $25 for State Theater (aka David Koch Theater) orchestra seats!!! if you call Monday first thing. New York City Ballet offers the winter’s all-Robbins program Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday matinee this week. (I agree, though, with NY Times chief dance critic, Alastair Macaulay, that it may be all Robbins, but it’s not best Robbins; I don’t agree, however, that Robbins neophytes, much less ballet neophytes, can be introduced to the choreographer or the artform with anything less than the best. If you’re not familiar with an artform or artist, you need to start with the indisputable works, not minor ones, so you can take in the whole picture, the full magnitude of the art or artist. An old hand already has a notion of the whole and can makes something of a partial view.) The following week, on the Founding Choreographers 1 program, Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering” appears, which, many people agree, does count as best Robbins.  a

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