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WHAT A pleasure it is to read Deborah Jowitt's carefully balanced and sweetly calculated account of Jerome Robbins Noun 1. Jerome Robbins - United States choreographer who brought human emotion to classical ballet and spirited reality to Broadway musicals (1918-1998)
 (see "DM Recommends: Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theatre, His Dance," November, page 60), which takes its place, alongside the likes of Richard Buckle's Nijinsky, as one of the finest dance biographies of our time. I do have a few complaints, but these are more regrets over omissions than commissions, regrets centered chiefly around Jowitt's decision to offer more of an overview of Robbins' life than an assessment of his genius. She is a major dance critic--one of the very few around--and I would have appreciated more of her own opinions even at the expense of a few facts.

Jowitt, with her careful, caring research and seemingly total access--for although this was not an "authorized," and therefore possibly censored, biography, she did have complete access to Robbins' private papers and memorabilia--provided a handsomely written and marvelously readable account of the man and his achievements, which will surely provide a splendidly factual backdrop to a more detailed critical evaluation of those achievements in the future.

THE BOOK tells us what he did, but to my mind falls a little short in assessing the importance of it, both for its own time and for the future. She appears to accept that his work in the theater, specifically his pioneering endeavors with the Broadway musical, are of equal importance to his work in classical ballet Noun 1. classical ballet - a style of ballet based on precise conventional steps performed with graceful and flowing movements
ballet, concert dance - a theatrical representation of a story that is performed to music by trained dancers
, and indeed she seems to give more space and detail to this theater work than his work in dance. This is a judgment that I am sure history will reject. His essentially interpretive theater work will, in 50 years' time, provide little more than a warm footnote in theater histories, whereas at least a-half-dozen of his ballets will still be around to bear witness to his standing as one of the major creative artists of the 20th century.

It is curious how many American critics, including even his friend Edwin Denby There are a few people with the name Edwin Denby:
  • Edwin Denby (poet), American poet and dance critic
  • Edwin C. Denby, U.S. politician from the state of Michigan, had prominent role in the Teapot Dome Scandal
, apparently underrate Robbins in almost direct proportion to their unstinting admiration for George Balanchine Noun 1. George Balanchine - United States dancer and choreographer (born in Russia) noted for his abstract and formal works (1904-1983)
, Robbins' mentor. The obvious example here is the writer Arlene Croce, who seems to have had little time for Robbins or his contribution to the repertoire of New York City Ballet New York City Ballet, one of the foremost American dance companies of the 20th cent. It was founded by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine as the Ballet Society in 1946. . Interestingly, some of these writers tend to overestimate his theater work in some patronizing attempt to denigrate den·i·grate  
tr.v. den·i·grat·ed, den·i·grat·ing, den·i·grates
1. To attack the character or reputation of; speak ill of; defame.

 his work in ballet, just as many like to suggest that his finest ballet was his first, Fancy Free. I fear that Jowitt's new book--simply by awarding equal time to Broadway as to the sterner climes of classical ballet--could add fuel to these flames.

In this very context I noticed, with horror, a letter that former City Ballet dancer Toni Bentley sent to the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 Times Book Review in gratuitous response to a review--a well-reasoned review by Nicholas Fox Weber, incidentally--of the Jowitt biography. She wrote, "Robbins was Salieri to Balanchine's Mozart, and we all knew it. On the Great White Way he was 'Mr. Robbins,' the King of Broadway, but in the elevators and studios backstage at the New York State Theater The New York State Theater is part of New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex. The theater occupies the south side of the main plaza (at Columbus Avenue & 63rd Street) that it shares with the Metropolitan Opera House and Avery Fisher Hall (home of the New  he was 'Jerry,' just 'Jerry.' Balanchine was the Man. And he was the Man to Jerry too."

ROBBINS' fervent and sincere admiration for Balanchine is well documented, as is the debt of influence the younger choreographer owed to his elder master. Balanchine, on the other hand, seemed to have little admiration for any other choreographer--although he did once admit to Buckle that Frederick Ashton Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton (Guayaquil, Ecuador, September 17, 1904 - Eye, SuffolkOctober 18, 1988) began his career as a dancer but is largely remembered as a choreographer.  taught him how to cook kippers. But to compare the relative stature of Balanchine and Robbins to that of Mozart and Salieri Mozart and Salieri (Russian: Моцарт и Сальери , Motsart i Sal’yeri  (ever since Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, virtually the poster-child contrast between genius and mediocrity) viciously mingles insult with ignorance. Robbins the 20th-century Salieri! What an outright absurdity. One could conceivably--were one playing stupid, trivial name triv·i·al name
1. A common, historic, or convenient name for a substance, derived often from the source in which the substance was discovered, but unsystematic and not used in modern official nomenclature, as aspirin for
 games--make a slightly better, though still unsupportable, case in suggesting that Robbins was Mozart to Balanchine's Haydn. But enough of such nonsense.

Whether Robbins was "the Man" or not, it is generally admitted internationally that Robbins was one of the few great masters of 20th-century ballet. And to be honest, when the dust of history has settled, it would not surprise me that in decades to come choreographers such as Robbins and Ashton, artists of poetry and passion both, may find their stock slightly rising with the tides of taste, while Balanchine's may slightly fall. There is a simple Apollonian beauty to Balanchine at his best, which no choreographer--not Petipa, not Bournonville, no one--has ever matched. Yet has Balanchine ever created a work with the simple humanity of Robbins' Dances at a Gathering or Ashton's La Fille mal gardee? Only asking.

Senior Consulting Editor Clive Barnes also covers dance and theater for the New York Post The New York Post is the 13th-oldest newspaper published in the United States and the oldest to have been published continually as a daily.[3] Since 1976, it has been owned by Australian-born billionaire Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and is one of the 10 .
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Author:Barnes, Clive
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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