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Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About

48 posts in this topic

I have to say, I see all the points here, but I'm in agreement with dirac. This was a documentary aimed largely at the uninitiated--I believe--and West Side Story and Fiddler are the two works that Robbins is best known for. Maybe it was because I love Broadway about as much as I love ballet that it didn't bother me--I was actually impressed and surprised with how much about ballet *was* covered. Certainly I hadn't seen a huge majority of those clips--whereas I had seen pretty much all of the Broadway clips many times and was disappointed in them (the Ed Sullivan performances of Cool and Maria are easy to find commercially and online, absolutely *nothing* from the stage production of Fiddler was shown though clips exist, very little from Gypsy focusing more on the TV movie version which was supervised by Robbins at least, unlike the Fiddler movie, etc).

I guess my point is that someone watching it with a huge love and knowledge only of his Broadway work would have probably been as disappointed as Natalia and others eeem about the treatment of ballet--we learned no new insights at all, many of his more interesting and less successful shows like Billion Dollar Baby were hardly even mentioned (O would love to know where the footage of the Max Sennett ballet in High Button Shoes was from!) and virtually no new footage. To me, as a fan of both (but, I admit, I'm someone who knows much more about Broadway when it comes to Robbisn than his ballet work, something I hope to rectify soon), I felt they were balanced well. I wish the documentary could have been twice as long and we could have really gone in depth with his works, but... For what it was I felt it did a better than expected job. (Certainly, footage wise, we got about as much ballet as Broadway)

Jack, thanks so much for the info on Faun! It's definetly next on my ballet DVD wish list. I always forget that there was a time when the CBC was very good at recording dance... Is the performance of Fancy Free they showed with Baryhnikov available anywhere? The original footage (shot from the wings?) of that ballet was fantastic even in its conditon--I was surprise dnone of the footage shot of the original On the Town that pops up in a lot of Broadway biopgraphies was used, even if fleetingly.

Oh and they said the same thing on our, Seattle, PBS "Stay tuned for more Jerome Robbins". It was just the end credits, however.

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I too really enjoyed the story of Balanchine losing it at Robbins. It sounded like a very funny moment. "All you do is COMPLAIN COMPLAIN COMPLAIN .." :o

I also liked seeing some of the lesser known dancers being interviewed, like Maria Calegari and Bart Cook. But as always it's amazing how beautiful and elegant former dancers remain long after retirement isn't it?

As for Robbins testifying for the HUAC, my grandfather was once in a position where in order to further his career he needed to do turn in friends and random innocent people. Not in the U.S., but in another country, another regime, but the point is he refused to cooperate at a great cost to him personally and professionally. So I admit I have very little sympathy for Robbins in this regard. I'm not condemning him as a bad person, but the documentary i thought almost made us feel like we were supposed to pity him for being "forced" to testify. It's true that Ed Sullivan's actions were disgusting, but Robbins not only testified, he gave names, which he did not have to do. Whatever happened to pleading the fifth? So on this, no, i don't feel sorry for him.

I thought overall this was a very good documentary, and gave us a real feel for how Robbins was as a person and choreographer. I would have liked to see more dancing clips but isn't that always the case?

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By the way, at the end of the broadcast here there was a voice announcement to "Stay tuned for more Jerome Robbins" but the "American Masters" program was actually followed by "The Nightly Business Report". Did anyone else see additional Robbins material somewhere?

All I saw was the credits rolling by, but there is an interview with the show's producer and director, Judy Kinberg, here.

Robbins was a handful and a half from a producing point of view. We made three DANCE IN AMERICA programs with him, including the only complete recording to date of the much-loved Fancy Free and the beautiful Other Dances, with Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. He was demanding, unsympathetic to our problems, funny, scathingly honest, told great stories, and had the best eye of anyone with whom I’ve worked. And there was some pretty stiff competition there. The entire time we were making the first program with him, it was often so painful that I promised myself I would never work with him again. And then I did.

I expected much more Broadway than ballet and was pleasantly surprised at how much ballet we did get. There were also Balanchine and L'Clerq photos I'd never seen before, and it's always such a pleasure to see how former dancers look like today (good!).

Re: Windmill/Watermill. Thanks for the laugh, Bart.

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As Natalia pointed out, that was Other Dances. There was a documentary shown many years ago that showed Robbins at work choreographing with Makarova and Baryshnikov and the ballet in full. Don't know if there's a video of it, but somewhere (New York Public Library?) it's there for the viewing. The documentary also gives the same treatment to Martins' Calcium Night Light. A flash of memory says it may have been titled "Two Duets."

Baryshnikov and Markarova in "Other Dances" and Martin's "Calcium Night Light" was either a "Dance in America" or "Live from Lincoln Center" program because I saw the original broadcast on PBS. Whether PBS still owns the rights to re-release it (dvd or otherwise) is always a matter for the lawyers and funders to decide--unfortunately. Later, I saw ABT do "Other Dances" in the '80's, and then not again until 2007 at a BB gala; at which time, I was astonished to see how much Misha and Natasha lived in those steps, no matter who danced them. And that is brilliant choreography, and a timeless gift to the dancers the work is set on. (I think I did a post about this on BT at the time.)

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Your point about the 10,000 contributors listed in the credits is something I noticed too. Clearly, these documentaries are complex -- and costly -- things, when one considers the rights that have to be obtained and the need to acknowledge every single person who did even the slightest bit to assist.

I kept thinking about BT contributor 4mrdncr and the heroic job of putting Corrella and his new company on film. These film-makers deserve our deep, deep thanks. :o

There are several regulations for credits (opening and closing) and underwriters required by the unions, guilds, broadcasters etc.. They indicate which credits are necessary, their order, and ultimately how they're presented. (For instance, PBS requires them to be over moving video unless it's a split screen--the better to keep people watching to the end and into the next program promo.) So I understand the long list, and the necessity of that list. Especially now, as I discover that rounding up all those funders is much more difficult when you are independent and not under the aegis of a series or station production team. Thanks so much bart for thinking of me.

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..... (Two credit rolls, Natalia? Where's the second one? ....

Yup, Jack. We got ALL the contributors before the show, then again after the show. Not so long ago, there were only 1 or 2 contributors mentioned, e.g., "Great Performances is made possible by a generous grant from the Fanne Fox Foundation and from Viewers Like You." Those 3-4 four seconds have turned into a cast-of-thousands with several top contributors names then '10,000 others' shown rolling, all before the show begins. THEN at the end of the show, after the credits roll, the Contributors' names roll again.

It's like the Playbill at the Kennedy Center -- names of even the $25 contributors are now printed....causing almost 50% of the Playbill to be nothing but Contributors. Next they'll be listing everyone who paid the $17 for Indoor Parking? :o

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Makarova was in red. Which ballet was that?

atm711 -- it WAS extraordinary to see the original film of Interplay. Having just seen the full ballet performed by ABTII in sleek contemporary costumes, I am astonished by how different this ballet now "looks" -- on the surface at least.

Bart, by this time you know it was 'other dances'. What amazes me about these brief dances is how Robbins absorbed Makarova's innate movements. I have a clip of Kirkland in the same work and whenever I look at it--all I can see is Makarova's persona. Something is missing and it's Makarova. (I feel the same way when a ballerina other than Fonteyn is dancing Ashton--Margot is missing) Ashton had many years to observe and absorb Fonteyn---but what Robbins did was magic (as they say).

Those sleek new costumes you describe for 'Interplay" would take me a while to get used to---after all these years I still can't get used to the white costumes in 'Concerto Barocco'.

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atm711, I confess to a preference for sleekness in general. Maybe that's because Balanchine was being forced to cut back on the costume budget at the time I started attending NYCB. The costuming in Dances at a Gathering is pretty much as far as I can travel comfortably -- without having to repress the urge to get out the scissors. :o

About the video clips. I was astonished, yesterday, when actually timing a few of them, at how very, very brief they are. Somehow they seem longer in the context of the film. I wondered whether this was because I had seen so many of these works on stage, which meant that many other images and impressions rushed in to fill out the experience.

It's like those little samples they offer at ice cream shops. Or trying to imagine a longer text by looking intently at tiny fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll.

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It will be shown again in the NY area Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:15 on Channel 13.

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About the video clips. I was astonished, yesterday, when actually timing a few of them, at how very, very brief they are.

I'm also surprised how little of the real stuff, the primary materials--as opposed to talking heads--documentary filmakers will give us, as if they're afraid of offending the audience by including something intense and sustained. I wanted to see more of Fancy Free, with the original bodies and gauge how much has worn away and how much infill--good and bad--has occured over the years.

Overall though it was pretty balanced. I liked seeing Harold Lang (the Pal Joey one) singing and dancing and the footage of Ethel Merman rehearsing in Gypsy (and I realized that Gypsy has a fairly substantial conceptual debt to Pal Joey). Seeing what Joe Duell was like performing and the clip of Imogene Coca winking and smirking in the broadest manner were also highpoints. And I agree with dirac and printcess that finking and naming names of friends and associates on Jerome Robbins part was an optional course, not one of necessity--even given all of the pressures of the time. He would lost out on Hollywood, had Broadway (maybe slightly fewer shows) and had his heart's desire, New York City Ballet. Lincoln Kirstein would have vouched for him there. And what a scoundrel, to use Lillian Hellman's term, the seemingly benign Ed Sullivan was. I had forgotten that.

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Lincoln Kirstein would have vouched for him there.

Balanchine, too, I think. He might not have understood some of the nuances of the domestic politics involved, and I imagine he thought the blacklistees were getting their just desserts.

I still think the ballet excerpts were mostly well handled and chosen, and as EricMontreal22 says they come off better than some of the Broadway clips, which were somewhat disappointing.

--we learned no new insights at all, many of his more interesting and less successful shows like Billion Dollar Baby were hardly even mentioned (O would love to know where the footage of the Max Sennett ballet in High Button Shoes was from!) and virtually no new footage.

Probably they figured that only buffs would be interested in the more obscure shows. That clip from High Button Shoes was marvelous, though, and I hadn’t seen it before.

I take your point about talking heads, Quiggin, but in the case of someone like Robbins where a few of those talking heads may not be around for too much longer – Ruthanna Boris, who was interviewed, is already gone, and I’m glad she was included -- I appreciate seeing them and hearing from them firsthand, even if not all of them are saying much that’s new.

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I appreciate seeing them and hearing from them firsthand, even if not all of them are saying much that’s new.

I agree, dirac, that the talking heads were for the most part well worth including--it was the best Peter Martins interview I've seen, with the complain complain story and the comment that with Balanchine it was an intellectual delight and bodily hell whereas with Robbins it was the opposite (or some equivalent, I'm badly paraphrasing this I know). But the historical apologist took up time that could have been better used for extended clips of original performances.

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I agree, dirac, that the talking heads were for the most part well worth including--it was the best Peter Martins interview I've seen, with the complain complain story and the comment that with Balanchine it was an intellectual delight and bodily hell whereas with Robbins it was the opposite (or some equivalent, I'm badly paraphrasing this I know).

No, you got it it just right. I too was impressed with Martins – his remarks weren’t just amusing but pinpointed key differences between the two men and their approach to their work. (The recent “Ballet Russes” documentary was, to my mind, more like what you’re describing – the dance segments were very, very brief and the talking heads were omnipresent. Really spoiled my pleasure in the film.) It's always best to work in as much primary source material as possible, I agree.

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It's always best to work in as much primary source material as possible, I agree.

If you have (or can get) access to those primary sources, AND PAY FOR the permissions, releases, or rights to use such sources as documents, photos, prints, films, home videos, or the talent (dancers,choreographers, stars depicted). And if it's a document/photo/print shown within a video or film clip, then you have double or triple the work to secure those rights. Oh yeah, did i mention the E&O (errors & ommissions) insurance you have to get too, in case you spell a name wrong, or signify the wrong document's or film clip's importance?

PS. The days of single sponsors (or only 3) for the majority of programs on PBS have been gone for decades.

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I wonder if the falling-in-the-pit story is true. It certainly fulfills the collective revenge fantasy of dancers who've been told to shut up and dance!

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That great Falling in the Pit story is in every Robbins book I've read so I have little doubt of it being true! LOL. It's pretty great--in a Summer show I did right after high school--a revival of Pajama Game actually--a similar thing happened to our egomaniacal director. He actually was MUCH nicer after his accident.

Speaking of Pajama Game that always made me wonder--Robbins co directed it with Abbott but because of time commitments hired a fairly fresh and untested Bob Fosse to do the actual choreography. The big dance numbers were of course Hernando's Hideway, Once-a-Year-Day, Steam Heat and (not in the film) Gladys and Hines' Dream/Nightmare ballet "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" (which is also cut from most revivals but I love). Fosse restaged the big ones for the movie version--but Sondheim discussed how blown away he was by Robbins' staging of Once Was a Man. I wonder if anyone knows which numbers Robbins staged and which Fosse did? It would have been neat to hear a bit more about Robbins hiring him as well.

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Sandik, I don't recall have heard or followed any of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings. I don't believe they were broadcast or televised; a number were rather secret. It was the confessions that were filmed.

And they were harrowing enough, I've always thought. The gods know the second-hand reporting of the actual hearings is pretty grim.

Thanks to Jack Reed for the credits on The Cage. I thought it was a nice, substantial excerpt, and I'm really grateful for it.

I thought it was quite interesting to insert the Ed Murrow "Person to Person" interview footage. It's fascinating to compare the "casual conversation" style from the 1950s with contemporary interviews. And it reminded me of the interview with Liberace from the recent film about Murrow -- I think everyone in the theater cringed when Murrow asked Liberace if he'd met a "special" woman yet...

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I'm not sure it's accurate to generalize from Murrow's example to the style of other interviewers of his time. On the other hand, the smoking both of them did in it was more likely to be seen then than now...

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I wonder if the falling-in-the-pit story is true. It certainly fulfills the collective revenge fantasy of dancers who've been told to shut up and dance!

I've heard it from theater people, including people who were close to Zero Mostel.

Someone mentioned televised hearings -- it was not the HUAC hearings, it was some of the Army-McCarthy hearings that were televised.

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I really enjoyed this documentary. It was fascinating, and the footage of former dancers was wonderful. One interesting point that never occurred to me before related to the Dance at the Gym in WSS. The version that Robbins himself staged for NYCB clearly demonstrates that the dancers from the Shark group and the Jets group are competing for stage space, and are taking the stage away from one another during the scene. This point doesn't come through in the film. Now I understand why.

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I saw the documentary. For someone who, like me, has had limited to non exposure to his works I think it was very informative. I had no idea about the political stuff. Naming names...? Wow...

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Jerome's naming names left him with quite the stigma--something I think it's easy to forget now. I'm not syaing this excuses--and certainly he never wanted for work at least on the stage--but it did make him an unwanted man in many circles. Even when he came to "doctor" A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum out of town (and saved it as the docu said) Zero Mostel was NOT pleased nor very eager to work with him at first--and I don't think he was all that happier with him when they reunited for Fiddler, although Zero knew he was the best man for the job.

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A Peabody Award! :lol: (Scroll down)

Congratulations to PBS, American Masters and all those who contributed.

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