Somewhere: A Life of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill - review by Patrick O’Connor

Patrick O’Connor

Fairy Footsteps

Somewhere: A Life of Jerome Robbins


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 352pp £25

The life of a choreographer, perhaps more than any other artist working in music or theatre, is hard to describe for those outside the world of ballet. All the tiny details that go towards making even the slightest dance have little meaning when described cold, away from the studio or the rehearsal stage. Jerome Robbins, following the examples already set by the great pioneers of modern American dance (Isadora Duncan, Agnes DeMille, Martha Graham), succeeded in making a greater fusion between popular dance steps and classical ballet than anyone else in his time. Inevitably, Amanda Vaill has chosen a reference to his best-known work, the dances in Bernstein’s West Side Story, and in giving her biography the title Somewhere she is also referring to what becomes the theme of this very long, lovingly researched book. Robbins seems never to have felt completely at home anywhere. His search for a companion was always frustrated by his failure to come to terms with his homosexuality. Even in the liberated 1970s he was hiding behind the skirts of various glamorous female partners, whilst pursuing increasingly anguished crushes on younger and younger men. In his professional career, the lure of Broadway and Hollywood took him away from the strict world of the ballet, and in particular his lifelong love–hate relationship with his mentor, rival and inspiration, George Balanchine.

Even quite late in his life, Balanchine would lurk in the wings and whisper to dancers as they came offstage in one of Robbins’s works, ‘How do you like dancing in the Fairy’s ballets?’

It would take Woody Allen at his most acerbic to do justice to Robbins’s life. Growing up

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