As celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jerome Robbins in 2018 get underway, the Directors of the Paris Opera Ballet have conceived a programme to pay tribute to a man who regarded the Paris Opera as his second home after the New York City Ballet. There are currently eighteen of his works in the Ballet’s repertoire bearing witness to this privileged connection. Eighteen opprtunities to leave an impression on the dancers who had the chance to work with the Broadway “showman”. Octave went to meet them.
Elisabeth Platel “Musical quality and freedom”
Étoile dancer and Director of the Paris Opera Ballet School
I discovered Jerome Robbins with En Sol. Suzanne Farrell was in the cast. The choreographer’s own musicality was already showing through in Maurice Ravel’s score. That discovery was an exciting moment for me: what I was seeing on stage corresponded exactly to the idea and image I had of ballet. At the time, Suzanne Farrell was the dancer I wanted to become and with whom I was starting to identify. And then Violette Verdy arrived in Dances at a Gathering. It was a shock. From that point on, I wanted to perform all his ballets… In the Night was the consecration. I was among the six dancers chosen for the first cast. The studio work was extremely long. It was as if Robbins were recreating the ballet for us. His perfectionism was at its peak. He made us work on a simple touch to make it match Chopin’s music and be in perfect symbiosis with his vision of the score. Rehearsing with the choreographer has taught me to be critical of my own performances. We became almost more meticulous than him! Above all, Robbins had a way of identifying with the dancers and of helping them to reveal their true selves: Even in the second cast, we were never looked upon as a second choice.
Carole Arbo “Another vision of classical”
Étoile dancer and a teacher at the Paris Opera Ballet School
My encounter with Jerome Robbins was a true revelation in my career as a dancer. I discovered an approach to dance which combined a simplicity in terms of movement and presentation and a high degree of technical precision in the studio that matched me perfectly. I immediately felt an affinity with his dance. It required no particular effort on my part, everything he communicated to me seemed natural. I would describe Jerome Robbins as an outstanding musician and a man of great humanity. Certainly, his talent was born of a degree of strictness but above all it was due to a perfectionism and a demand for the highest standards rarely encountered elsewhere. I immediately liked the man and the choreographer. In the studio, he urged us to focus on movement in its purest state without adulteration or embellishment. It had to have meaning. It had to be precise and natural. I had the impression that I was releasing my soul, that I was finally allowing my true self to show through in terms of gesture and dance. There are several ballets that I like to perform: En Sol with Laurent Hilaire, Other Dances with Manuel Legris of course—having chosen that piece for my stage farewell—and also The Concert, a ballet which manages to be amusing, almost burlesque, whilst retaining its sophistication. A partner is a crucial element in Robbins’s ballets. He requires us to be generous in our pas de deux by stressing the high degree of complicity that two dancers need to communicate on stage. Indeed, that is what I often say to dancers who are discovering his repertoire for the first time: you have to be able to give. Robbins is life, Robbins is joy!
Wilfried Romoli “Working the invisible”
Étoile dancer and a teacher at the Paris Opera Ballet School
I met Jerome Robbins after I was picked for the second cast of In the Night with Marie-Claude Pietragalla. For me, that ballet remains one of the great masterpieces of dance, a gem of perfection. The piece brings together everything that made Jerome Robbins a true master: his incredible musicality, his perfectionism, precision, and attention to detail. That month of rehearsals with him remains a memorable experience in my dance career. I’ve not performed a pas de deux in the same way since. The way we work our gaze for example is highly revealing of the importance Robbins gave to details: He could spend several hours on a simple gesture. A few years later, I was also cast in Glass Pieces, a ballet tbeing revived this autumn as part of the tribute to him. I like the piece's modernity, as much for its musical language as its choreography. What I like most about Robbins is the wealth and diversity of his ballets. He was able to be so modern when he created Glass Pieces and so amusing when he devised The Concert. Influences of Jazz, character dance and Broadway musicals mingle with his more classically inspired gestures. To interact with a man of such high standards certainly made me more mature. The poetry he radiated in the studio continues to live on in me today, especially now when I’m teaching.
Lionel Delanoë “a reverence for detail”
Premier Danseur and ballet master of the Paris Opera Ballet
I was still a dancer in the Corps de Ballet when I discovered the world of Jerome Robbins for the first time. In memory of is a piece of incredible finesse. I admit that its spirituality at first escaped me, because I was probably too young at the time to appreciate its asceticism. However, I was already fascinated by the choreographer and his ballets and I dreamed of being cast as a soloist in one of his works. I observed the dancers who had already worked with him, and the effect it had on their technique, their stage presence, and their performance in the studio. Robbins transforms you, it’s a fact. Working with him required patience, the ability to listen and a great deal of attentiveness. We could pass several hours at the back of a studio whilst he focused on the rehearsal of a lead role… Watching him communicate was a dance lesson in itself! Jerome Robbins had this gift of knowing exactly where he wanted to lead his dancers without giving them too many explanations. By magic, at a key moment, things clicked into place. Precision, detail and perfectionism were always expected but were accompanied by a credo as Anglo-Saxon as it was his own: “Easy!” he would like to say through his white beard. Robbins’ ballets are the ones that taught me the most about working and progressing because he had this unique way of moulding and shaping his dancers. Robbins had a way of changing the point of view, playing with his alphabet to better entertain and trick his audience. Today, as ballet master of the programme paying tribute to him, I have to communicate that elusive side to a new generation. You need a very open attitude when performing Robbins. You have to let yourself believe in the suddenness of the action as if it was happening on stage for the first time. I will never forget our exchanges in the studio, his self-control and his generosity Those are precious memories for me.
Your reading: Jerome Robbins - tributes and testimony