Born on October 11, 1918, Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz – a. k. a. Jerome Robbins – is one of the icons in two very important fields of visual arts; film director, and an area which he established to make a name for himself: choreography.
Career – The excellence in his career in choreography spanned five decades during its peak, starting with the his 1930’s career all the way to the 1980s, during its entirety Robbins experimented in every different possible types of choreography and exhibited a characteristic of being unafraid to lead, create and make new and bold moves, which earned him the respect he now holds today both in stage and in film.
But it was in 1944 that Robbins’ would come out of his shell in aplomb as the next big thing in choreography with the eminent showcasing of his work On of Town, ‘When on the town opened on December 28, 1944, it had mixed reviews, but some critics raved about it, about Bernstein and, most of all, about Robbins… The stage production is memorable certainly as the Broadway debut of Robbins and Bernstein.
had opened not quite two years earlier, and in this brief span of time Robbins had come out of nowhere to become, at twenty five, a bright, shinning success in both the ballet and Broadway theaters. In that eventful year the Rabinowitz family in Weehawken, New Jersey, changed its name to Robbins’ (Long, pg 74). For the skill and ability that Robbins displayed as a professional jazz dancer and choreographer, it was highly attributed to two things – his intense training with some of the best and diverse dancers from around the globe, and his imagination that his body was able to execute well.
Long (2003) chronicled the early training of Robbins that helped establish his set of skills and repertoire, ‘he studied interpretative dancing with Alyce Bentley; Spanish dancing with Helene Veola; Oriental dancing with Yeichi Nimura, a well known Japanese concert dancer… and choreography with Bessie Schonberg at the New Dance League’ (pg 60).
One of Robbins’ most significant contribution to the art of dancing and choreography is how he spearheaded the style wherein lead characters sing, dance and acted at the same time, a style to which Maya Dalinski would attribute the new way of how story plots move along during the performance via the dance and the lyrics of the song, and not just through mere narrative. As a pioneering man, he was responsible for the showcasing of innumerable musicals and ballet shows and his participation in the musical genre in film was priceless.
Robbins allowed for the continuity of his style and approach via his creation of two dance companies which he mentored. Awards – Robbins’ works are countless, and his excellence was reflected in his various awards and nominations, which include a Best Choreography Tony in his 1947 opus High Button Shoes and, ten years later in 1957 the same award for West Side Story which he himself choreographed and directed. Another Tony Award came Robbins’ way courtesy of his work Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, the highlights of his five Tony Awards.
He was also nominated but did not win in several different occasions via some of his other works, including the Bells are Ringing in 1956, the Gypsy in 1959 and the Mother Courage and her Children in 1963, all earning Tony Awards nominations. Robbins was also an Academy Award winner, taking home the Best Director plum via his work on West Side Story, film version. His works earned him the citation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Kennedy Center Honor and the National Medal of Arts.
Robbins was also the recipient of several honorary doctorates, again because of his exemplary contribution to choreography. He was also later affiliated with American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, where he was awarded an honorary membership. Conclusion – It is difficult to gauge of measure indeed the intensity of Robbins’ contribution to performing arts. He was an artist’s artist who expanded his horizon and never limited himself to a certain set of things, and this attitude is reflective of his dancing instinct.Long writes, ‘Robbins appeared in dance numbers ranging from jazz dance to ballet’ (pg 65).