Crosby to reprise CDC lecture on Robbins, a master of Americana



Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

Returning to the subject of his Week Two lecture for the Chautauqua Dance Circle, Chautauquan Steve Crosby will again share stories of award-winning choreographer Jerome Robbins, otherwise known as the “demon master of ballet and Broadway,” at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

The American choreographer of shows including On the Town, West Side Story, The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof was infamously disliked by many of the dancers he worked with, said Crosby, who also serves as CDC treasurer.

Robbins was so motivated by his vision and absorbed in creating whatever it was he wanted to create that he could be unkind to dancers, Crosby said.

“He had a reputation of being focused to the point of being unresponsive to the dancers,” Crosby said.

Patricia McBride, associate artistic director of North Carolina Dance Theatre and master teacher at the Chautauqua School of Dance, inspired Robbins to create some of his master works, including “Dances at a Gathering,” Crosby said.

“Very differently than so many other dancers, she has never had a bad word about him,” Crosby said. “And he did not mistreat her.”

McBride has said Robbins brought out a more lyrical, feminine side in her dancing, and she maintains that he treated her respectfully, Crosby said.

“That’s a very different story than what you hear from so many other dancers who had nothing good to say about him,” he said, “except that he was a genius, but nothing good to say about him personally.”

Crosby’s lecture will discuss about 25 years of Robbins’ creative career, he said, starting in 1944 with his breakaway hit “Fancy Free.”

The ballet was so successful it was translated into a musical comedy, On The Town, which was adapted for the screen starring Gene Kelly.

Crosby will continue through to 1970 with “In the Night,” he said.

He will also show famous archival footage of “Afternoon of a Faun,” one of Robbins’ early serious ballets. It is still performed regularly throughout the world, he said.

“It’s not only the extent of his work but the radical difference from one piece to another,” he said.

He said he hopes his lecture shows the audience about the abundance of Robbins’ work.

“With Jerome Robbins, you have the ballets, you have the jazz, you have the Broadway, you have all of these aspects of his amazing talent,” Crosby said. “So by the end of the lecture, people will, hopefully, have an idea of the whole range of what he has done.”

Jerome Robbins was particularly inspired by young dancers and creating an “American ethic,” Crosby said.

Along with the works of Agnes de Mille, Robbins’ ballets were among the first to tell stories of Americana instead of fairy tales.

Crosby will also discuss Robbins’ upbringing, Jewish background and its relation to his work on Fiddler on the Roof, and the choreographer’s personal issues, including his involvement in the McCarthy hearings.

Before the lecture, Crosby — who is a pianist, composer and chorister with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music from The Julliard School — will play portions of the score to “Interplay,” Robbins’ 1945 energetic ballet. Interplay is still performed regularly, Crosby said, and represents some recurring Robbins’ themes.