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Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York at the NYPL

September 7, 2018 - by Alison Durkee
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From Broadway stages to ballet studios, legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins made an indelible mark on New York City’s dance scene during his multifaceted career. As the dance world now celebrates Robbins’ centennial, a new exhibition will honor the man and his work in one of the NYC spots most associated with Robbins: Lincoln Center. Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York is a new exhibition opening this fall at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, which will draw on the library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division to celebrate Robbins and his work. Robbins’ influential career included work on both the Broadway and ballet stage; he choreographed extensively for the New York City Ballet while also bringing to life such musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, On the Town, Gypsy, Peter Pan, and, most famously, West Side Story.

Jerome Robbins

Gordon Parks photographs original Fancy Free cast members Muriel Bentley, Janet Reed, Harold Lang, John Kriza, and Jerome Robbins during a Times Square reunion in 1958. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.

The new Lincoln Center exhibition will celebrate Robbins’ life and career in connection with New York City, tracing the choreographer and his dances alongside the history of the city itself.

"New York served as a laboratory for Robbins, where he observed people, buildings, traffic — how movement in space could carry meaning and beauty," Curator Julia L. Foulkes, a professor of history at The New School, said in a statement. "The city became the meeting ground between self and world, a way for Robbins to connect stylized ballet and everyday life in dances such as Fancy Free, West Side Story, and Glass Pieces."

Jerome Robbins works with the cast of West Side Story

Jerome Robbins (center) in rehearsals with cast of West Side Story. (Facebook)

Voice of My City will bring together a collection of rare Robbins artifacts, including early script ideas from West Side Story, costumes, sketches, photographs, and 24 of Robbins’ diaries, in which the choreographer collected his thoughts and harnessed inspiration. Robbins’ dances will also be on display through extensive video footage documenting rehearsals and performances, along with footage of the New York City streets filmed by Robbins himself. 

Beyond the exhibition itself, the library will offer a number of opportunities to delve even deeper into Robbins’ life and work with a series of events. In addition to a full schedule of guided tours through the exhibition, upcoming events include spotlights on Robbins as a dancer (November 19) and his Jewish faith (January 14); a sing along variety show of Robbins’ Broadway hits (December 1); and a special evening with famed ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (December 6). Other events will delve deep into Robbins’ ballet works, including Other Dances (October 6), A Suite of Dances (October 27), the “Goldberg” Variations (various dates), and the ballets Glass Pieces and New York: Opus Jazz, which New York City Ballet principal Adrian Danchig-Waring and resident choreographer Justin Peck will discuss at an event December 10. 

The NYPL will also celebrate Robbins’ birthday with special birthday dance parties that give attendees the chance to learn some Robbins moves for themselves. Adults can take part in the event on October 11, and a separate family edition of the party will take place October 13 as part of a special family day at the exhibition.

Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York will be on display at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts from September 26–March 30, 2019. For more information, please visit nypl.org.

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