cover image Jerome Robbins: A Life in Dance

Jerome Robbins: A Life in Dance

Wendy Lesser. Yale Univ, $25 (216p) ISBN 978-0-300-19759-4

This brief but carefully researched biography (part of the Jewish Lives series) builds a persuasive case for the importance of Jerome Robbins’s career as a choreographer who explored “the overlapping terrain between ballet and modern dance.” Lesser, founder and editor of The Threepenny Review, uses original sources, including Robbins’s journals, to create a portrait of the tortured, angry, guilt-ridden perfectionist, whom composer Stephen Sondheim described as “the only genius I ever met.” Although it touches on Robbins’s personal life, the book focuses most intently on his choreography, from the famous dance scenes in such Broadway shows as Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story to such ballets as The Cage and The Goldberg Variations. About the scene in Fiddler in which Jews and Cossacks encounter one another, she writes, “Here is cultural opposition presented theatrically... here is fear, a rare emotion in dance, made palpable through aggressively choreographed movement.” Stories of Robbins’s famously difficult personality are contrasted with examinations of his productive working relationships with colleagues like composer Leonard Bernstein and mentor George Balanchine. The results is an evenhanded portrait of an important choreographer. (Oct.)