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Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 3, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684869853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684869858
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,476,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Jerome Robbins's story is as distinctively American as his choreography. Born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz in New York City to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Robbins (1918–1998) became a Broadway chorus boy in 1938 before joining Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, ultimately dancing lead roles. Robbins also became one of the 20th century's most highly regarded choreographers, including for the 1957 Broadway hit West Side Story. Other Broadway successes include On the Town, The King and I and Peter Pan, and significant ballets such as Fancy Free, The Cage and Dances at a Gathering. With precision, lucidity and insight, Village Voice dance critic Jowitt (Time and the Dancing Image) chronicles Robbins's extensive career, as well as his struggles with bisexuality, ambivalence about his Jewish heritage, and his decision to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s. Given unrestricted access to Robbins's personal and professional papers, Jowitt adds a new vulnerability and humanity to the legend: Robbins was infamous for his perfectionism, insecurity and temper. "I... still have terrible pangs of terror when I feel my career, work, veneer of accomplishments would be taken away," wrote the man who worked alongside Bernstein and Balanchine, "that I panicked & crumbled & returned to that primitive state of terror—the facade of Jerry Robbins would be cracked open, and everyone would finally see Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz." Both critically sophisticated and compulsively readable, this is a must for theater and dance devotees.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Director and choreographer Robbins was a complicated man--social and solitary, inspired and neurotic, brilliant and cruel. A giant in the worlds of theater and dance, he worked on many of the most successful Broadway shows of the 1950s and '60s, including The Pajama Game, The King and I, gypsy, and West Side Story, the last of which he conceived, nurtured, directed, and choreographed. While he won himself a place at the top of the American theater, he regularly created dances for American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. The emotional cost to him was enormous. Stories abound of his terrifying tantrums and monstrous tongue-lashings. In recounting his life and work, longtime Village Voice dance critic Jowitt neither praises Robbins nor buries him. Instead, in a well-researched, well-written biography, she spreads Robbins' life before us: his relatively late start as a dancer, his rapid rise, his follies and foibles and moments of triumph. She doesn't sugarcoat her subject. Robbins named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, after all, thereby helping to destroy the careers of people who had helped him earlier. Yet she doesn't demonize him. Jack Helbig
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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In addition, it is a masterly survey of 20th century modern dance in the US.
Ricardo Hofer
Jowitt delineates visions of Robbins forging The Great White Way for talented choreographers to follow: Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Twyla Tharp.
William Dunas
I had just barely heard of her before and now I want me my Tanaquil Le Clercq!
Kevin Killian

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By dramamark on August 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm amazed at the other reviews for this book that I have read (above) and their unstinting praise for a long, incredibly boring and ultimately dissapointing slog through Mr Robbins life.
Perhaps Miss Jowitt has managed to bewitch or possibly hypnotize the other readers. Personally I found this drawn out rambling book to be nothing more than a catalogue of dates, dance moves and occasional affairs.
And please know that I am a huge Jerome Robbins fan and consider him to have been quite simply a genius in his field. I could seriously have done with less talk and more action.
I wonder how much free access Miss Jowitt had to Robbins personal letters or what her subject's estate actually allowed her to write about. She delivers a bland, un-emotional and hand tied account of someone her readers should have found a page-turning study.
How does one compose a book about the man who created at least three of the worlds most acclaimed, enduring and legendary Broadway musicals and gloss over them in a matter of pages? If you suffer the 600 pages of this book you'll discover how.
Unlike Mr Robbins own work, I couldn't wait for Miss Jowitt's to end.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
All in all, I'm touched by Deborah Jowitt's well meaning and comprehensive biography of Jerry Robbins. She digs under the surface of his ballet and Broadway work and finds a whole lot more than I had ever imagined. Again and again she returns to the paradox of the name, how "Jerry Robbins" was a fake, all-American and showbizzy place name for the real, suffering, inward, outcast Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, and how Robbins could never be happy knowing this. He loathed himself from the inside out and the outside in: no wonder he treated others so terribly. Deborah Jowitt's years of research into the Robbins papers, those revealing scrapbooks and journals, have really paid off, for although I think in general Greg Lawrence's biography better in most ways, Jowitt's contains innumerable examples of revelation right from the horse's mouth, scraps of diaristic strip-tease that really pay off in almost every case. We can see how, in Gypsy, there had to be a strip-tease number in which three women explain, "You Gotta Have a Gimmick," because Robbins realized early on that was the path to artistic greatness--not the gimmick per se, but the emotional and psychological undressing.

Along the way Jowitt sketches in many portraits, some of them ravishingly done. Leonard Bernstein has never seemed so much himself before. John Kriza, the gadabout dancer from Ballet Theater days, seems as "Fancy Free" as the roles he created in Robbins' early work. Jowitt's greatest "creation" as it were is Tanaquil Le Clercq, the tragic, French-born ballerina who came down with polio while Balanchine's fourth wife.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Scott Fuchs on April 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Any valid bio of Robbins would have to result in a narrative of the development of dance and musical theatre in America, since the 1940s. While Jowitt gives us the, often sad, milestones in this man's life, her major thrust throughout this long and always exciting book is on his work. She delves into virtually every creation of his, including his generally poorly received occasional forays into non-musical theatre. Detailed attention is given to both concept, creation and execution of his prolific endeavors. Her in depth analysis of each of his works, often quite technical, VIVIDLY recall many great performances of these masterpieces.

While not necessarily for those with a casual interest in dance, the facts of his life, as well as the cavalcade of his shows and ballets, makes for a read that is always more than just factual. Interestingly, Jowitt seems never to editorialize on Robbins' work. But then again, why attempt to laud a universally acclaimed genius ?
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By Ricardo Hofer on June 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fabulously detailed, scholarly and exhaustive biography. In addition, it is a masterly survey of 20th century modern dance in the US.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William Dunas on November 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Jerome Robbins was a hard act to follow. Deborah Jowitt's Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance should be placed upon every public library shelf, alphabetically, before William Shakespeare, for only he could. Robbins is to 20th Century American Modern Dance Theater what Shakespeare was to the Elizabethan Stage, an author of infinite variety, a man for all ages.

Ms. Jowitt gives us a scholarly blueprint for amateur, musical theater lover, and balletomane; one that should be made available to all engaged in the academic pursuits of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Jerome Robbins, legendary theatrical genius, is brilliantly extolled in exacting detail and rendered with the loving care of a biographer dedicated to communicating this great artist's "message." He was the least difficult of men. All he wanted was boundless love.

Deborah Jowitt's Jerome Robbins is written in a trenchant prose style, a cross between WCBS TV celebrity correspondent Walter Cronkite's You Are There, and Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Her tone is one of a high-powered sports newscaster delivering to her audience a polished blow-by-blow description of celebrity "plays." These are not professional precision ball passing reports; they are larger than life descriptive interactions of 20th Century Show Business's great personalities Robbins knew and loved.

Jowitt presents us with an eyeful. It were as though she uses a high definition, technicolor, movie screen attached to a time machine to fly us, like a motion picture director's crane, throughout multiple three dimensional scenes Jerome Robbins choreographs, before our eyes.
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