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January 30th, 2019

Review: An Aching Ode to Jerome Robbins’s Lost New York
For this essential New York choreographer’s centenary, a Public Library exhibition full of the joy and anxiety of postwar Manhattan.

By Jason Farago

Sometime in the early 1940s, before he became the choreographer who shaped American movement, Jerome Robbins made a little home movie on a New York rooftop. He’s goofing around, trying out a few spins and pliés.

His mother comes on to dance too; she and her son balance on one leg on the rooftop’s ledge, then he gives her a ginger twirl in a sweet, familial pas de deux. Then his father enters the picture, squatting and spinning while Jerome kicks his legs like in a Russian folk dance.

In Europe and Asia the war is raging, and the unthinkable is taking place in Jewish villages like the one his parents fled. But New York is a different world. Robbins, up on the roof, goes into an energetic solo, ending with two fast pirouettes, and then looks right at the camera with a grin that says, “If you can make it here …”

That sky-high dance is the charming preface to “Voice of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York,” on view now at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. This centenary exhibition — Robbins was born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, in October 1918 — draws heavily on resources he bequeathed to the library, and swells with preparatory materials for ballets like “Fancy Free” and musicals like “West Side Story,” as well as reams of anxious diary entries and notes to self.

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