Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

Jerome Robbins and His Contribution to the Theatre of Musical Comedy

CHRISTENA L. SCHLUNDT

Distributed to papers across the United States was the announcement that the dance artist Jerome Robbins was taking to China a company whose dancers were selected for this specific trip fom the members of the New York City Ballet. 1 Thus one of the commodities selected by that country to fill in the large hiatus during which Western cultural importations were banned is an example of the artistic activity of that indefatigable American innovator, Jerome Robbins. The are of influence of Robbins's art in the Western world now approaches a formidable half century, in work that has been as varied in kind as it has been extensive in time. Although Robbins himself is reportedly uninterested in the record of his career, the history of dance in America and the world is incomplete without it.

For a historian trying to write about Robbins's multifaceted career, the critic Arlene Croce has made a useful distinction about that social entity called dance within which he worked. In order to isolate fields of endeavor, she has identified two worlds in which dance artists work in the theatre. One she has designated as the "artistic branch of the profession," the other as "the entertainment field." 2 Presumably, modern dance and ballet would belong to the former; musical comedy dance would fit into the latter category. Each world has its own requirements which make special demands upon the artists practicing their trade within it. An artist like Robbins who is a master in both worlds has to be versatile indeed.

A search of the record reveals that Robbins is not unusual in his bridging of these two worlds. Several major dance artists have worked or are working in both these worlds: Robert Alton, George Balanchine, John Butler, Jack Cole, Agnes de Mille, Hanya Holm, Michael Kidd, Eugene Loring, Herbert Ross, Donald Saddler, Anna Sokolow, James Starbuck, Helen Tamiris, and Charles Weidman, to mention some of his contemporaries. They have worked during the same years as Robbins--from the late 1930s until about 1965--his Fiddler on the Roof ( 1964) marking his last musical theatre association. Since that time, Robbins has been working only

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