As part of the all-encompassing Jerome Robbins celebration in New York City, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts is hosting an excellent exhibition devoted to Robbins’ life and work. Letters, posters, photos, paintings and drawings (many by Robbins himself), ticket stubs, programs and playbills, costumes, news articles, and a variety of video monitors featuring clips of works by Robbins. It is a tremendous array of materials and, although the maintenance of the exhibit seems to be somewhat troubling (dust may be found in display cases, some description cards are dangling from the wall, and captions are often placed far away from the exhibition pieces), the breadth and scope of the show is quite breathtaking.
The primary focal point for many exhibit-goers (especially dancers, scholars, and dance fanatics) is the bank of six tv monitors, each of which broadcasts a looping series of differing performance or rehearsal or interview clips, making for a kaleidoscope of Robbins images. I found the broadcast of NY Export: Opus Jazz from the “Ed Sullivan Show” (with dancers from Ballets: USA, including the fabulous John Jones and Patricia Dunn) to be especially exciting. And it is also extremely thought-provoking, since the exhibition also includes McCarthy-era newspaper clippings written by Ed Sullivan (in the years prior to the appearance of Ballets: USA on his tv show) that accuse Jerome Robbins of being a Communist sympathizer. Indeed, the exhibition does not shy away from presenting materials related to Robbins’ testimony before the HUAC and the controversy that followed his naming of names.
Also fascinating is the incredible collection of photos, programs, flyers, drawings, and letters that relate to Robbins’ early career with the Federal Dance Project and Gluck-Sandor, as well as his performances at Camp Tamiment. And, of course, his Broadway, Ballet Theatre, and NYC Ballet years are all generously represented (in particular, West Side Story fans will find plenty to keep them busy and happy, as will fans of such wonderful dancers as Tanaquil Le Clercq, Nora Kaye, and Patricia McBride). It is also possible to view a segment from a brand new staging for film of the aforementioned NY Export: Opus Jazz, a project being undertaken by two current NYC Ballet Soloists, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi (who are acting as co-producers). All-in-all, a must-see.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Jewish Community Center in NYC (on West 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue) will be presenting a Jerome Robbins Celebration this coming Monday, June 23, at 7:00pm. Highlights will include a conversation with Ellen Sorrin and Jock Soto, film clips, and performances by members of the NYC Ballet.