Like God and Jerome Robbins, Village Voice dance critic Jowitt dwells in details, coming up with an impressive record of her subject’s work.
Culling his journals, correspondence, and notes for a never completed autobiography, Jowitt presents an exhaustive account of Robbins at work as he created choreography and direction that set the standard during the last half of the 20th century. The author moves briskly through tales of Robbins’s turbulent family life, speedily following him to Tamiment, the Pocono camp where in the late 1930s he and others (Danny Kaye, Imogene Coca, Herbert Ross) honed the talents they later offered to a world audience. The narrative then pursues Robbins’s two career paths, one down Broadway as director and choreographer of such major works as West Side Story, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof; the other as the creator of dances for, chiefly, the New York City Ballet. Herself a dancer and choreographer, Jowitt puts the reader fifth-row center to see how Robbins’s work evolved and then sailed across the stage. While not stinting on aspects of his personal life, she pays less attention to it than did Greg Lawrence in Dance with Demons (2001), which portrayed Robbins as an often tortured, explosive man. Acknowledging that her subject “had a temper that could take the shine off a dancer’s soul,” Jowitt also finds in her extensive research tales of a generous, sensitive person. She comes up somewhat short in assessing Robbins’s legacy, though in a too-brief afterword, she does conclude that Robbins created “art that made an enormous contribution to theater and dance almost worldwide.” Her case then rests: it’s all in the details.
For buffs, scholars, actors, dancers, choreographers, and directors: a vital picture of ballet and Broadway in a golden age. (Photos, not seen)