Speaker When I was in one of Martha's mother Greyhound's season on Broadway, she was giving concerts. Jerry came up after the show. He came up the steps and and knocked on the door. And I just happened to be next to the door and my makeup table and. And this is Yuriko said, yes, I'm Jerry Robbins. I said, How do you do? And that's how we met. And he said, I I'm Jerry Robbins and I'm doing a musical. Would you be interested in working with me? I said, Of course. And who wouldn't? So. So I said, you might have to wear your mask. So I said, that's fine. Anything just to work with you. I would love to do that. And that's how we met. And he was very gracious for a famous man choreographer, you know, and I was, of course, thrilled.

Speaker And what was your. You had an audition then for King and I. Did you or. No, no, you didn't. He just hired you that way.

Speaker Yes. But I think GenZE we had a little workout that we he just was trying all kinds of position. He had somebody advising some Siamese steps and movements. And so we all had to learn that we were maybe we did one week or two weeks.

Speaker Tell me if you would see what the king and I was based on and what give me an idea what the story was about the King and I story.

Speaker What was it based on? It was based on a story. The part that Jerry did was based on the uncaught what is her name?

Speaker Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Is that OK? But you know what I was actually asking you about? The whole show will do little. Oh, because I don't know who wrote the story. Don't worry about it.

Speaker Don't worry about it. Just give me a little bit idea of what the story is, the whole music.

Speaker All right. The the King and I it's about this king who hired the English lady as a teacher to teach the royal children in English. And so this Anna Leonowens went to Siam and start teaching. And in the meantime, there was they had a little not not a very good relationship at first, but then the relationship developed from testing to teething to didn't go quite to romantic. But they they had an understanding at the end and he. Became very dependent on her, the king, and she started to have affection for him, and at the end he dies.

Speaker But she continued.

Speaker Do you remember that Jerry had done any research, particularly for the show? Did he?

Speaker I don't know. No, he didn't. He did not say anything in the rehearsal time.

Speaker Explain to me if you would have these particular rehearsals for King and I were different than any other rehearsals that you'd have for anything.

Speaker Well, this was my first Broadway show. Oh, I did. Off Broadway Sandhog. But but this was the very first Broadway experience for me. And I don't know if Jerry went into any research or not. I'm sure he did.

Speaker But he didn't give you some sort of you had some sort of a class before rehearsal in a special vocabulary of the show, didn't you?

Speaker Well, we did many of the agents, you know, the positioning and so forth.

Speaker But it wasn't.

Speaker He was I think he was getting acquainted with the style and what sorts of influences were there, what kinds of dance was was he using?

Speaker Well, the Siamese dance movement, can you just incorporate the whole movement of the Samsa, the all the frightened position and and maybe crying positions like this, you know?

Speaker OK, did you work with Marvin Solheim? Do you remember who you know who. Merav on cell phone. He may have worked with her before.

Speaker Mara. Yes. Yes. OK, can you tell me about Mara, what she did? She was one of the instructor. Just if you can incorporate the questions. So use her name.

Speaker Mara, who was the instructor for to help Jerry with the with the with him to get acquainted with the Siamese movement. And so we followed her instructions. And sometimes Jerry will change a little bit, you know, and make it a little bit more modern or current for American theater. So he he was experimenting in different character. He knew that there was going to be characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin, but he didn't know who was going to do what part. I didn't know I was going to do Eliza. He did not decide that until and.

Speaker OK, so now tell me about the small house of Uncle Thomas and what exactly was it, first of all?

Speaker Well, I don't know the original story. No, I'm not I'm not asking you that, but what was it within the context of the King and I in the King and I Tuptim, it's became a gift to concubine, one of the concubine to the king as a gift from another country. And so. She wanted to tell tell that she love another man and this. The king Simon became was portrayed as a king, where she is being kept there at King's palace and. So it was it was this Iliza, was Tuptim actually Tuptim running away, running away to meet his her lover and then baby George? She had baby, baby and then baby George and her in the King and I. Her lover became Angel George. So there were those characters.

Speaker Tell me what the rehearsals for this were like.

Speaker I can't remember I cannot remember when when the when rehearsals started. I was not sure that I was going to become Iliza, no one really knew we had several principles, but. I'm trying to try to.

Speaker Do you have memories of Jerry rehearsing you and teaching you? And can you tell me what those were like?

Speaker He was. The music, the music, the storyline was, I think, already there by written by Hammerstein, and he was trying to take the core of the story.

Speaker And and.

Speaker Not change it, but project, it's hard to explain a project, the the main line of the story of the Tuptim feeling and and the putting it onto Iliza, so forth. And so it's just very it was very complicated. He was very.

Speaker He he was in search.

Speaker In search because of the movements he was in. At at I think about two weeks or three weeks, we were constantly Marot is not there, but he was constantly doing very authentic way of moving, choreographing and but but this is the end. And he did feel maybe maybe five minutes of choreography in about two or three weeks. And it was 14 minutes dance. And so Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted to see it and they were rehearsing on stage in a theater nearby. So we went there and we did his choreography and afterwards. Mister, Mister Rogers came up on stage and wanted to talk to Jerry, and I was of course, we are scattered and dancers are scattered and resting and they just happened to be around, came around where I was. And what I heard was so interesting because Rogers said to Jerry that, you know, Jerry.

Speaker I write.

Speaker The music and the sense and love story and the conflict, racial conflicts and all those things into the into the music, but I do not try to create or follow the Asian music.

Speaker Thailand music and and so Jerry said, you mean you mean like I could get away from it? This is, of course. And so, well, then that frees me. I said, that's exactly what I want to tell you, that you don't have to stick.

Speaker Close to it to make us try to make it authentic. There was the snow, a small, authentic, small house of Uncle Thomas, so so you could go freely into your comfortable area. And I thought that was fantastic. Rogers and Delage. Well, after that, from it all, the whole thing changed. The whole thing changed. And and then he was doing all kinds of you know, it was a little bit more on the modern side with the Asian positions and whatnot. One thing he mentioned was that he told us was you born and bred into the royal dancer's family. So that you don't play it, you don't play it funny. You are very serious. Tuptim is telling the story, you do not understand the English, you you are told by Tuptim what to do, so you are just doing it. But you have to maintain the dignity. Of generation of dancers. Why you are here now dancing. Tuptim story, and this is this is where the whole thing went.

Speaker Excuse me one second. Let's just stop for a second. Tell me about.

Speaker If you remember about Jeri's musicality, was he musical and how did he work together with Trute written? Oh, that was truly Richman.

Speaker And Jerry. They.

Speaker They had such a wonderful rapport and and the conversation between how, I don't know, Jerry was musical. I mean, he was so sensitive and and to deal with it. How about run, run, run, run, run, run. And then Jerry said and then it went on for a while. That's too much. Maybe you could put something else in that spot and then they would create words into the score. She would write the the music and he would put the or she would so many times, you know, say the words and and he would say, can you speed it up on onto the next thing and or change something. It was just incredible. What do you what do you call that collaboration. Between Trute and and Jerry and Jerry. It well, Jerry is very musical, you know. Yes, he has his, again, genius with his ears and many times he would. He would. He would ask the dancers to to.

Speaker You know, be right before the bee. Right on the beach, right after the beach.

Speaker Or thought that, you know, something like that, once he's double-take, you recall that you saw somebody by Double-take. I didn't. Jerry, what is Double-take? I don't know what it is that says, well, you see something I said, oh, my gosh. So so what he did with the movement was that I you see, I was running away from Simon and then he would say, look, you saw that it was ha. Oh, it was that. I thought that, you know, it's that kind of thing. And I was was an incredible thing. And there was another instant that Hammerstein came after one week after the first showing. And then about a week or two weeks later, he came and. He saw it and then on the first Grassie run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run time. And, you know, it just goes hopping across the stage and then turn around and just go once around and then go off. And Hamisi stopped, stop the rehearsal. And he said, Jerry, I didn't hear anything. And then. And George. Angel George, it was an angel, George, then it was love of yours, love. George was happy with me helping you guys across the river. And and then Hamisi said, Jerry, there's nothing about love, George, in this section. Why is he there?

Speaker So. He said, Oh.

Speaker All right, lover George, don't do your partner in her, and then he said Yoriko. Will you do just just do something that combines some of the things that they love. George was doing and your part, this is the second crossing? No, the first crossing. And then so I can't remember exactly where it was. But anyway, well, it was one of the crossing that.

Speaker So it was fine and it's the choreography stay like that now, the.

Speaker The problem that came to to Gerri was she was on a contract with a certain, you know, Lovejoy's part, he has to bring bring her down this something. So this is his genius genius that he aided after. Eliza was almost drowning the reverse, it comes to Rebecca. What will Buddha do? And then the Buddha appears Buddha and the and George. And that's how Angel George. Lover George became Angel George so he could still use her. I mean, you know what would think of that? It's just incredible that that whole transition in his brain that, you know, creative brain, he's very clever.

Speaker I just think. Eve. Brizzi. Tom, just.

Speaker So tell me who the stars were and how Jerry related to them.

Speaker You remember who the stars were?

Speaker Oh, the stars were great, you, Lawrence. I have a program of the original program and I want to show you that and then go to Lawrence. Yul Brynner and Yul Brynner was still I wouldn't say he was green, but he was upcoming. All right. He was not as well established as got your Lawrence. She was a star. He was not. Then there's Dorothy Sarnoff as Lady Jan and Doris tomorrow. Yes.

Speaker How did you relate to Gertrude and Yul Brynner particularly?

Speaker Did you know I was not a A.. Because the ballet was completely separate? Yes.

Speaker Tell me about the march of the Siamese children.

Speaker Yes, but I was not involved in that. But you must have seen it. Oh, I have seen it. And I do that many times.

Speaker Describe it and tell me why it's unique.

Speaker Well, you see. What I admire about Jerry's creativity is that he will. Bring in a human child's individual quality. On the introduction to Mrs. Anna.

Speaker And.

Speaker And the timing of it and the looks of it, the one we'll have, you know, about, bowed to the king and then go and then go to Mrs. Anna, Mrs. Anna and and then like this and then so that she she will take his hand and go, all right.

Speaker And but he looks at his hands dirty. So he goes, you know, and so everyone had a little different characteristic and some small ones were so cute that he left them alone, let them do their bouts and they come and, you know, take business out of it. And then it was very interesting, though. His creative mind works in a human way.

Speaker It seems like the debt he used the dancing to try to advance the story, right?

Speaker Well, yes. Yes. Well, that really started with the Agnes's million, in a way, with Oklahoma. I think that was before before King and I. And so that that's that idea of advancing the story was already I think it was in process, not really because Agnes did that Agnes had a dream sequence.

Speaker Oh. Dreamed she could comment. Yeah.

Speaker On the interior characters, but she didn't use dancing the way Jerry did where he would at the end of a number. The characters were in a different place in the story and emotionally than they were in the beginning. Right. So can you explain how something about how he did that related to, for example, getting to know you?

Speaker I was not right, you know.

Speaker Oh, yes, I know the number, yes.

Speaker Or maybe it would be easier to do with shall we dance either one of those?

Speaker You see?

Speaker I know that I know the the creativity again, I.

Speaker Again, like in the getting to know you, getting to know you, his he thinks of the a. a. sense of I want to know you.

Speaker It's he. As I said, we talked about it before he had this tremendous human.

Speaker Quality or understanding of the human being. And so he put that sense of and coming to a strange place to teach and this relationship to have with the children in the school.

Speaker And then that's the whole whole sense of getting to know you and then to to show them that shaking hands, faking it. And it comes to the twins. And then she goes like this and then goes like this together. Is it.

Speaker Those are all.

Speaker Human, human. Human touch.

Speaker Of of the sense of relationship with it, with the court and the prince and Louis, it coming in prince, because he have seen that Mrs. Anna curtsy. So and they tend to and they have seen Louis do Bob. So she goes like this and he goes to school and says, no, no, no, you don't do that yet. And so those are the human relationship that he brings in to his choreography. And he he.

Speaker And then.

Speaker Then at the end of that. Place King comes in. I can't remember.

Speaker Did it bother you or not and what?

Speaker Oh, yeah, just. Yeah, a little bit.

Speaker Did it bother you just keeps moving. Did it bother you or not that the show was somewhat about westernisation? Yes, it implied that there were manners or customs in the West that were superior to those in the east. Did that bother you or not bother you? And why?

Speaker It didn't bother me, it. I think the.

Speaker The.

Speaker There was, I thought, and Hammerstein and that the way they constructed the story. I know in in Thailand, they they resented this king and I because they thought they didn't betray the king the right way, but I didn't feel it as a Japanese American. I didn't feel that that it was insulting.

Speaker And King was not the way you prayed was not funny. He was it was more of an innocent. Innocent way of tried, but he had to maintain his kindliness, but he was still innocent and furious at the Western culture, Western way of thinking, and he wanted to be.

Speaker Now.

Speaker Not what you know, but he didn't know how to. But yes, so he was very ambitious in that way to learn something from it, but I didn't feel it was. It was degrading.

Speaker How would you distinguish, Gerri, from other choreographers you've worked with, such as Martha, for example?

Speaker Well, there they are completely two different ones, but they're so similar in a way of a creativity. It's an innocent thing.

Speaker It comes.

Speaker It's what makes Jerry different than other choreographers you've worked with.

Speaker Well, those are the only two I worked with, I worked through. And so.

Speaker Well, Jerry, you see, Martha was Martha.

Speaker I can't explain that. You don't have to explain, Martha, explain, Jerry. How different?

Speaker Well, that's another way I heard you say that, Jerry. So I'm quoting you. Jerry saw the dancers not as human beings, but as material to be used and disposed of.

Speaker Could you give me an example what you mean by that?

Speaker Did I say that I did. Well.

Speaker I'm surprised. I don't think I meant it exactly like that. What did you mean?

Speaker He.

Speaker In his creative ways, he was totally.

Speaker In its world.

Speaker And that each dancers became. The colors, like the painters with different colors and and then you could mix the colors or you could make that as a main colors and and then pudding, that's what. But he will again, like he. When he decided I was going to be Lysa, he would he wouldn't tell me that, but he would take things from me, you see, and then maybe I was not able to explain it, that it was not a cold, calculated thing. It was a create his creative process of using the material.

Speaker When I say material, the dancer as a colors, different colors like in the painting or costume designer with different materials.

Speaker So when you say just for people who are not in the dance world, when you say he took things from me, what exactly?

Speaker Well, talk took is that he will draw things out of the person.

Speaker And then that becomes part of the choreography Ewood. He would like vegetables, you know, different taste of vegetables. They it put as part of this soup. And it's that kind, but each has a value. Each has a value.

Speaker How did he do that exactly?

Speaker Instinct, creative instinct, you could you could actually tell who has something or who doesn't.

Speaker And.

Speaker That special something for the character that he's looking for.

Speaker Would you say that he was more a realist or a perfectionist, and how did that affect the people around him?

Speaker Oh, he was both, can you?

Speaker Well, he he was a perfectionist. Do it in Dega degree and.

Speaker If you can't produce it, like I said in the news, musical sense that before on the music or after the music or between that attack or whatever, if if you can't take a director and producer just like that, then. He has no use for you because that is what's needed right there and then. And sometimes it's it's very, very difficult for dancers to understand and.

Speaker I knew from.

Speaker Watching him choreograph and talking.

Speaker I knew instinctively that I better be ready at anything and.

Speaker So.

Speaker He he insulted me many times, you know, I don't mind that because he was trying to get something out of me and. At one time, I had to tell you this story about the one time he took me to another studio, smaller studio and. I'm frightened and said, help, help, help jumping with my feet up like this and my heels touching my butt and and doing this whole thing with the eyes and then run, run, run, run, run, run, run it up. And then he wanted me to say, help, help, help. All right. Run! We did that for about 30, 45 minutes. And then we go back into the studio and then he makes me do them. What's the matter with you? You're it goes nothing oriental about that. I would've been screaming, said, oh, all right. So by that time I didn't say help, help, you know, but just do the movement. But of course, you know, when you do it with the help, help, you know, it's it's kind of American input that I didn't think about it. But when when he said it, that that's the Asian quality. It's lost. So I said, all right, it's I I don't know exactly what I did, but a little smile on it or something, and he was very happy. That's better.

Speaker I noticed that Jerry was somebody who treated different people different. So I'm wondering what. You say that he. I can't remember what you just said he was mean to you.

Speaker Oh, yes, yes, he said, you know, at the beginning he knew I was a modern dancer. You know, he saw me and Martha's concert and and the one time I was doing some kind of lunges or something, he said and then he said, I didn't tell you to do Martha Graham step.

Speaker But again.

Speaker You want me to bring in some of those steps, but he didn't have to say, you know, that way, but he did.

Speaker Did you feel like you brought out the best in you and why?

Speaker Oh, yes. Oh, yes, I. I started to read his mind.

Speaker You know, what mood is he in, is he in American mood, is he in a mood or is he in? How McMoon or is he in this mood or that mood and in the warm up, you know, in the morning before the rehearsal, he gives us warm up and I'll try to size him up and to think what mood he's in and then I will try to produce.

Speaker With my instinct. Tried to read his.

Speaker That must have been fun. Yes, I had a good time. Yeah. Do you remember what the reaction to the show was when it finally opened? What was it?

Speaker We ran over four hours. New.

Speaker It was a long shot and we cut we cut many sick songs and the dialogue's just one line, two lines here and, you know, just condensed, condensed. And there was a.. Gert's one waiting, waiting to see the king that was cut.

Speaker There was just what was Jerry's role? What was his job in the film version?

Speaker And how did the movie people relate to him movie people and in the making of the movie? I think it was Jerry's first very first movie in the studio atmosphere and.

Speaker And since day, the crew and whoever there knew that it was his first movie, they could manipulate him. And whatever, because he did, I'm just going to stop you, we're going to go back a second.

Speaker OK, I'm going to ask you the same question again. It actually wasn't Jerry's first. No, no, no. We've discovered that he did choreography for a movie in Mexico in the 40s. So which. This is what research does to you.

Speaker Let's read about it. Wait a minute, wait a minute. But it was first movie in Hollywood. This is first Hollywood movie. OK? OK, then I could say that you absolutely can. So whenever you start again, I it was it was very interesting to watch Jerry in this, his first experience at the Hollywood movie making and and all the crews and everybody involved with this show, King and I. They all knew this fact and they thought they could kind of guide him through that was their way away, whereas Jerry had his way. And of course, they didn't know what kind of person. And a very creative person and so first thing after the rehearsal period and then they were ready, getting ready for the sound first.

Speaker We took the sound and we had.

Speaker What there was three studios, separate studios and principal dancers were in one studio with Jerry sitting one side and once I was sitting and then tapped them on a high, high stool, sitting with a microphone to her mouth, sitting up here and Jerry over here.

Speaker And Tim Tuptim was with Mike looking at Jerry. Jerry was sitting here and looking at dancers, dancers and worthy in a movie.

Speaker And as he's being, Tuptim is saying, so like my entrance. Yeah. Eliza's lord and master, he would say. And she was Eliza's lord and master. And we were very quiet, we we couldn't make it, no, we were just gesturing and he was following you not.

Speaker The. Studio. With all right.

Speaker Our studio and seeing the car studio, so there was they had two cameras, the two screens, we had orchestra screen and the singers screen the singers and and their conductor had the orchestra and the dancers. This was his idea.

Speaker All right, but it worked.

Speaker It worked and they were all there, it was synchronized so well, they were shocked. I think the little respect. And so that was that was one story and he knew exactly how the shooting should take place, so forth and so on, how involved in who was shooting?

Speaker Was he in the shooting of the dancers? Can you tell me about that?

Speaker I don't know how much he was involved, but he was involved. I know that. And then I have heard from many of the workers talking about Jerry. That he's very particular and and how the how they, you know, you know, I thought he didn't know anything about it, about the movie, but he was able to dictate what he wanted.

Speaker Were there many changes between the stage version?

Speaker Yes. Yes. Well, you know, like a rain he used. I have a picture of it. That commission you thrower's, it's in Japan, it's called Quanah's is a spider web and you throw it and it's. Yeah. That was used as rain. Yes. And he used.

Speaker He changed the force.

Speaker And just to your top, just straight it out, playing with it, OK, you're making good every time you do that. I just I don't know. That's that's all right. That's right. It's fun. Actually, it. No, no, we're almost done. Yeah. Tell me about your work on Jerome Robbins Broadway.

Speaker Oh, I just did the king and I parked.

Speaker Well, explain that, if you would, you Inc incorporate the question into your answer.

Speaker Oh, Jerome Robbins, Broadway. He asked me if I would come in and and audition for the dancers and and to to coach them, coached them on all of the steps and everything. And he was very nice. It was actually very nice and I don't think he changed much. And my my daughter Susan was Eliza.

Speaker Did you and he have any talks during that time about the ballet? And do you remember what he told you?

Speaker No, no, no, no, no, no. That is his department. I mean, he he did all that. He didn't he didn't ask any advice or anything like that. I was just helping him bring this back steps and quality and so forth, OK?

Speaker Since that happened about, I don't know, 40 years after the king and I did find that he had changed over the years and if so, how?

Speaker Oh, I think he mellowed. He was not as as. Strict or demanding? He was demanding, but a softer, softer way.

Speaker Yes, what did you learn from him?

Speaker Oh, many, many things.

Speaker Oh, that's a hard question of of Jerry's.

Speaker He. He then.

Speaker It was in some ways like Martha, he does not, he did not and Martha did not actually advise or tell you.

Speaker You took it, I took so many things I it stealing. I stole so many things from Mother and put it into my body, put it into my head. And whatever the experience I had with Jerry, I would. Cherish it, put it in and take it, put it into my head, and many times, you know, the thing of what I talked about, musicality, I would use use. I've learned that, too, and use that in a sense, a dramatic sense, quieting sense. When when he was he was telling me as he lies, I said, Yuriko, you don't have to go out to the audience like you do on stage. So the camera comes to you. So cut it, cut it, let you get there, and now it's so you could use that. Same shading in in performance, so when I do some coaching's and reproducing mother's work, I would I would incorporate things like that.

Speaker I learn many things of the theater from him. Dynamic theater, creative theater, keeping things alive. Not just routine. Routine, but to keep it alive and. And to bring.

Speaker Bring something that's it's like, you know, like Shakespeare's been written a long, long time ago, but you either stay in archive that way and bring it to this stage exactly like that, which is it doesn't communicate. You have to bring it to now. And which I think Jerry did that in all of revivals that he worked in and then like Jerome Robbins Broadway, he did that. So, you know, those are the things that I learned from him.

Yuriko Kikuchi
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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"Yuriko Kikuchi, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 22 Feb. 2006,
(2006, February 22). Yuriko Kikuchi, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Yuriko Kikuchi, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 22, 2006. Accessed May 20, 2022


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