Don't Miss the Jerome Robbins Doc on PBS Wednesday

(image from PBS)

Don’t miss — don’t fail to record so you have it forever — the Jerome Robbins documentary on PBS this Wednesday evening, February 18th at 9pm EST. It’s long — 2hours — and very extensive; includes discussion and excerpts of nearly all of his ballets and Broadway shows. There are interviews with many many people — Baryshnikov, Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Peter Martins, Violette Verdy (a former ballerina), Suzanne Farrell, Stephen Sondheim (who is not at all what I expected!), Jacques D’Amboise (who is quite the character!) writers Deborah Jowitt and Robert Gottlieb (the only two critics whose faces I’d never seen), and more — can’t even think of everyone who spoke. And there’s footage of interviews with Robbins himself both recently and further in the past.

He and others talk about his inspiration for and meaning of much of his work — The Cage, Fancy Free (one of my favorites, which was based on a Paul Cadmus painting, which I hadn’t known), Interplay, Dances at a Gathering, Glass Pieces, NY Export Opus Jazz, Afternoon of a Faun, West Side Story, Gyspy, the wonderful Fiddler on the Roof (Broadway) and Les Noces (a rather haunting ballet about a Russian wedding based on Fiddler, which I guess is kind of obvious, now that I know), Goldberg Variations, Watermill (lots of interviewees defending this pretty controversial work!), Suite of Dances, etc. etc. etc.

There’s brilliant footage of Tanaquil Le Clercq and Jacques D’Amboise dancing Afternoon of a Faun (and please tell me if you’ve ever seen anyone better than those two in those roles!), of Robbins himself dancing Fancy Free, of Barysh also dancing FF, Dances at a Gathering, and Other Dances (with Natalia Makarova), of Robbins and Balanchine dancing in a piece Robbins choreographed for the Stravinsky Festival, etc. etc. — there’s so much, I can’t remember it all, but I think they’ve got excepts of just about everything.

There’s also coverage of major events in his life — so upsetting when his ex-fiance talks about discovering one evening that he was in love with Montgomery Clift and was gay and trying hard to marry and be “normal”; his excruciatingly difficult decision that would forever haunt him to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee; his visits to Eastern Europe that resulted in the making of one of his masterpieces — Fiddler; the quite nasty things he did to a Gypsy actress who couldn’t remember some important actions in the play…

And dancers and actors talk about how Robbins rehearsed them, which I found extremely interesting. An actor from West Side Story says he always made people do their own character sketches, which they’d have to present to him — which I love! He was a hardass to put it mildly, but only in a certain respect. He worked the dancers hard mentally (similar to one of his tutors, Antony Tudor), but when it came to the physicalities of the dance, he’d ease up considerably, ask dancers why they were working so hard — the opposite of Balanchine. At then end, Peter Martins remarks that it was mentally challenging to work with Robbins but physically relatively easy; it was the complete opposite with Balanchine.

This is honestly one of the best PBS specials on dance that I’ve ever seen. It does get slow in some points — especially early on when there are all these people talking and you can’t read the subtitles quickly enough to figure out who everyone is — and Robbins was so prolific that the film moves quite quickly and sometimes you can’t figure out which dance the interviewee is even talking about. So, I’d highly recommend taping it so you can watch it again and again. Believe me, you’ll want to. Go here to check local listings. (Type in “Jerome¬† Robbins: Something to Dance About”).


  1. ooh, sounds like a mustsee… thanks for the heads up. i haven't seen too much of robbins and the verdict is still out for me if I absolutely LOVE him or not. do they feature his goldberg variations at all? that's the one I'm most curious about. i'm going to the theater on wed night but will catch it as soon as I get home.

  2. Hi Jolene — yes, Goldberg Variations is on toward the end. There's footage of the dance and they discuss it a little bit. They cover so much. I'll be interested to hear what you think!

  3. Thanks for the heads up on this documentary. I thought it was very well done– it seemed like they included all aspects of his life, not just ballet or Broadway. I've always known that he was a choreographer, but I had no idea how extensive his works are! What a talented man…and thanks to PBS for doing this!

  4. Thanks for commenting, Krystin. Yes, I thought it was really all-inclusive too — I really don't know how they covered so much in two hours. I'm glad you liked it!

  5. Thanks for commenting, Krystin. Yes, I thought it was really all-inclusive too — I really don't know how they covered so much in two hours. I'm glad you liked it!

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