September 2016 | Bulletin Board


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Dance in Time: September

September 17, 1904: Sir Frederick Ashton, OM CH CBE, was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. His interest in dance began at age 13 when he saw Anna Pavlova perform; he began training in his 20s, with Léonide Massine and Marie Rambert. He danced with Ida Rubenstein’s and Rambert’s companies, as well as in musicals and revues, but he made his mark on ballet as a choreographer and artistic director. He served as principal choreographer at The Royal Ballet (under Ninette de Valois); then, as the company’s director from 1963 until 1970, he developed what’s now considered the English style of ballet. He choreographed nearly 100 works, most notably Cinderella, Symphonic Variations, Marguerite and Armand, and La Fille mal gardée.

September 25, 1884: Dancer and choreographer Adolph Bolm was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His influence extended from the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Civic Opera, San Francisco Opera (later Ballet), Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre), and Hollywood films.

September 26, 1957: The original Broadway production of West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by Steven Sondheim (his Broadway debut). Starring Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert, Chita Rivera, and Ken Le Roy, the show ran for 732 performances. In 1958 it was nominated for six Tony Awards (including Best Musical) and won Best Choreographer and Scenic Designer (Oliver Smith). The 1961 film (starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris; Eliot Feld played Baby John) was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, including Best Picture.

Quotable: Dancers on Dance

About West Side Story:

I wanted to find out at that time how far we three, as ‘long-haired artists,’ [Sondheim joined them later] could go on bringing our crafts and talents to a musical. Why did we have to do it separately and elsewhere? Why did Lenny [Bernstein] have to write an opera, Arthur [Laurents] a play, me a ballet? Why couldn’t we, in aspiration, try to bring our deepest talents together to the commercial theater in this work? That was the true gesture of the show.Jerome Robbins (as quoted in Deborah Jowitt’s book Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance)

In the book Jowitt says Peter Martins, now ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet and “then a young dancer recently arrived in New York, knew [Robbins] only as the man who had made West Side Story”:

That’s who he was to me, growing up in Denmark as a kid . . . he was a giant. I didn’t know him as a classical ballet choreographer. . . . And so I don’t know whether I was really equipped to truly appreciate him or even understand him as a classical choreographer. He was the man who did this [snaps fingers]. And that’s what I fell in love with.Peter Martins (as quoted by Jowitt)