Jerome Robbins

Active - 1949 - 1998  |   Born - Oct 11, 1918 in Weehawken, New Jersey, United States  |   Died - Jul 29, 1998 in New York City, NY  |   Genres - Musical, Comedy Drama, Music [nf], Theater [nf]

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One of Broadway and Hollywood's greatest choreographers, Jerome Robbins helped change the face of modern dance with his breathtaking ballets and spectacular stage productions.

Born Jerome Rabinowitz in Weehawken, NJ, his passion for dance began after watching his older sister, Sonya, dance. As a young man, Robbins dropped out of college to study dance full-time, and he became a professional hoofer in 1937. After working three years in various Broadway chorus lines, Robbins joined the newly formed Ballet Theater (later known as the American Ballet Theater); at that time, he was strictly a background dancer and only occasionally obtained small roles in classical ballet. As a choreographer, Robbins collaborated with composer Leonard Bernstein to create a more modern ballet sequence about a trio of sailors on leave in New York. The dance, "Fancy Free," was expanded into a full-length show by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and retitled On the Town. Making its Broadway debut in 1944, the show's subsequent success led Robbins to an exciting second career as a stage choreographer. Though he continued to perform classical ballet until his retirement in 1952 at age 34, Robbins as a choreographer freely combined classical ballet with modern dance and jazz techniques to create a whole new way of interpreting dance that would earn him three Tony awards for High Button Shoes, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof.

In addition to choreographing for other directors, Robbins also directed a number of distinguished Broadway productions; his direction of Fiddler on the Roof and the variety revue Jerome Robbins' Broadway earned him two more Tonys. Interestingly, he made his directorial debut not on-stage, but in the 1954 television adaptation of Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin. In film he choreographed The King and I (1956) and West Side Story (1961). He also co-directed the latter with Robert Wise and earned an Oscar for his efforts. Some of his stage choreography has been used in filmed versions of such productions as Gypsy (1963) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

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Factsheet

  • Backed into the orchestra pit on the set of an early-'40s Broadway production after the cast and crew failed to warn him.
  • Isolated the actors playing the "Sharks" and "Jets" before and after rehearsals for the musical West Side Story in order to build animosity between the two groups.
  • Shared the 1961 Best Director Oscar for the film version of West Side Story with Robert Wise. Robbins was the second first-time director to win the award and is the only one to win for his sole film.
  • Donated heavily to the Dance Collection (since renamed the Jerome Robbins Dance Division) of the New York Public Library, which still receives a percentage of the profits from Fiddler on the Roof.