Transcript:

Speaker How I first met Jerry, well, I was. Fourteen years old and I met Jerry in Los Angeles here at an old studio called the Perrys Dance Studio, and the ballet theatre was rehearsing there and I was taken into the company through David Machine. And we were rehearsing one day. And I met Jerry out in the hall and he said, you know, I.

Speaker I like I like your dancing and I'd like to work with you through the years.

Speaker And I said, well, that's wonderful. I said, who was this guy? You know, I don't know.

Speaker So but I found out later who he was. So anyway, that's how I first met Jerry Robbins in 1944.

Speaker OK, thank you.

Speaker Um, now, if I'm correct, you were in the original cast of Intraplate, I was in the original cast of Interplaying, that's correct.

Speaker OK, tell me about that, because it was new. What was what was it like?

Speaker Oh, well, it was a wonderful ballet. It was.

Speaker Before I go back, just say.

Speaker Interplay, yes, it was a wonderful ballet and I was very happy to be chosen to be one of the original and interplaying, and I had done I had done. Jerry asked me to. First, he had asked me to go into a fancy free. And then because I could do the double air tour into a split. So he was doing this ballet interplay.

Speaker And it was it was sort of that American character, jazz dancing, which I just loved and which he was in fancy free, which he had brought along, which is a kind of dancer I was at that time anyway.

Speaker I just love that kind of stuff, which you don't see too much of it anymore.

Speaker What were the circumstances around the production? It was not for ballet theatre. What was it?

Speaker It was for American Ballet Theatre. Interplay. Interplay. Yes. Just absolutely, he had I mean, the premiere, it was American Ballet Theatre, when was it performed in Billy Rose concert?

Speaker Well, that was before then. And I wasn't that was the I was not in that.

Speaker OK. What was Jerry like in those days?

Speaker Oh, Jerry was. He was a lot of fun.

Speaker He was, I tell you, Jerry was always self-contained. I always felt he was very self-contained. However, he was a lot of fun. He worked very hard. And I I like that kind of thing because, you know, when we were doing shows, when I came after I left the valley and did shows, Jerry would say we'd be out of town and he would say, you know, I've got a piece of Vivaldi and I want to work on it. You want to come and work? And I'd say, sure, he would do all kinds of versions of this different kind. That was the best time that I ever had with Jerry was working in that studio, doing different kind of movements, working together, dancing together. That was just that was just heaven. I didn't mind the different versions. That was that was wonderful. What do you mean by different? Oh, we do. Well, let's try this version. Can I have a certain version to a certain part of the music? Well, let's do the second version. And you do a third version and you do a fourth version. Well, he had he was he was searching for the right thing. However, when you performed that kind of thing, you had to say, now stop, because I've got to lock this thing. I'm not going to know what I'm doing. But anyway, that's that was great. That was a great time. And he was he was wonderful to work with.

Speaker What was working methods like?

Speaker Well, he would do it. He would dance it and he'd say, let me see it, and you had to be quick. He would do it once and he'd want to see it so. And I could do that.

Speaker He was he he was very serious and he worked very hard, and he but he was very fast and you had to be fast. Because he had so many ideas going on in his head, you see. And so they had to come out and he had to he had to see it.

Speaker What kind of a dancer was he was the kind of dancer he was, he was a character dancer, he was more I would say he was more on the line of marzin.

Speaker And I guess everybody knows whom Yaseen is. And yes, that's at least that's how it appeared to me.

Speaker I know what you mean. Sort of. But can you explain what you mean when you say that good perform?

Speaker When I say me, I mean, there was a kind of an injury, took that and made it American because Jerry was the first to to do what I call the sign of American character dancing. Yasseen was very European. Jerry took it and made it American, the kind of style, the kind of movement using. It's just all I can say is it's American character dancing, which it later developed into all kinds of things.

Speaker Um, let's talk about values here.

Speaker You said I'm 40, 44, and I'm very different than what it's like to be, you know, a big ballet company today. Yes.

Speaker Give me a picture of what it was like to be in ballet theatre. It was. And it was working.

Speaker Well, yes. And I joined a 19 ballet theatre in 1944 during the war. It was a touring company.

Speaker We had we did 30 cities or was it 60 cities and we did 30 cities. I'm sorry, we did 30 cities in 60 days.

Speaker So we did a lot of one night stands. But the company had a lot of wonderful performers in it. We had classical dancers, we had character dancers. But the main thing about ballet theatre then it should have been called the American Ballet Theatre because we did American works. And that's what the company was mainly built on, new American works with new American composers, and which is they don't do that now. That's what made it that's what made it interesting. We had at least three or four new ballets every year, but a lot of them were American. We did our classics, too, but they did a great little feed. They did we did a RORRIS wedding. They call it the last act for the Sleeping Beauty.

Speaker And what was it like?

Speaker Well, as I said, it was a touring company and you got very adept.

Speaker At waiting for trains for five hours in a train station, and when you got on the train of taking the train absolutely apart and making a sleeping compartment out of it, people would be on the racks. People would be on the floors. When you could dismantle the seats, we could do that in 15 minutes. And we had a sleeping car and town, town after town. And then when we arrived at the place, you should see the bags being tossed out the window so we could get to the taxi cabs to get to the hotel. So the first person, the first person at the hotel got the best room. Oh, yes. You should have seen us flying around those train stations.

Speaker What were the train rides like? Sorry. What were those long training like when you were sleeping?

Speaker Well, I used to play poker, a lot of them played poker. And then when Igor Yoskowitz, which was with us, the Duke. He would pay. He would he was a great poker player. And sometimes you'd win and sometimes you'd lose.

Speaker I also studied, you know, the girls would knit or because I was a great fan of art.

Speaker So I was studying my art books because you can imagine for a young kid, you go into a company and you meet Tutor Robins, Agnes de M. Balanchine. You had the whole and you worked with Bernstein. You worked with all the great composers. You worked with me. I sing the first ballet I ever was in was was macing came and redid three cornered hat with Tom Oliver. So, you know, it was I got a big education very fast.

Speaker What was the spirit in the company like?

Speaker The spirit in the company was a great camaraderie.

Speaker You had a lot of people who just loved to perform. There were more performers. You know, they were very well, how shall I say?

Speaker They were very jealous of their parts and they didn't.

Speaker You if you were going to do you know, part of it was was hard to get somebody to teach it to you because they didn't want you to do it. So you had to learn it out in the wings.

Speaker And but but anyway, it was it was great fun.

Speaker At some point. You did dance.

Speaker Oh, yes. Yes, I took over.

Speaker Oh, yeah. Tell me what it was like to watch party and what it was like to work with him.

Speaker Well, Jerry had just done had done fancy free and Harold Lang was going to leave. I guess he wanted to go into musical comedies. So they had to find somebody to do Harold Lang's part. So Gerry came up to me one day and said, can you do double tour into a split? And I was a young kid. I said, Sure, bang. And I did it. You said, learn Harrell's part. So that's and he worked with me. He was very precise on how the arms and on the beat and what they should be.

Speaker He was very precise on if I was a little sloppy, he'd come to me and say, no, that's going to be on that beat and this has to be done in this way. And he was usually right. It was it worked much better that way. And so it was wonderful working with him and seeing seeing him perform every night, night after night, doing fancy free.

Speaker What was important, do you think, about fancy free for its time?

Speaker Well, as I said, the important thing about fancy free for me was, was. It brought a whole genre of dancing, a way of dancing, as I keep on saying, this American character dancing, incorporating jazz and all kind of movements, it was a very important ballet.

Speaker Can you just do that one more time, but don't tell me you keep on saying it because we're only going to hear it once, was that why Fancy Free was important?

Speaker You want me to say that we fancy free you is important because it created a whole new genre of movement, American movement, American character, dancing movement, which which later led to opened up the doors of all kinds of of different kinds of movement.

Speaker Before we get off Ballet Theatre, is there anything else that you would like to say about those early years?

Speaker Well, they were the years in ballet theatre were very important to me because I. Was able to work with all these wonderful people, all these talented conductors, composers, choreographers, a young boy, a young boy, couldn't get that kind of education anywhere.

Speaker And it developed me as an artist and it has influenced it influenced my whole career.

Speaker Did you work with Tutor? Oh, yes. Tell me about what it was like to work with tutor.

Speaker Was a tutor with a tutor. Rehearsal was, for me, very strange because I didn't understand what he was doing. Later I understood it when I was a young boy. I did not understand what he was doing and.

Speaker He he was I didn't understand the kind of dramatic dancing that he was doing later on. I did. He was the one who taught me honor, which was one of my biggest successes, the green skater and my partner.

Speaker He taught that to me and he explained it to me. So I understood this part some in some of his ballets. And then later on I did. When I came back, I did Pillar of Fire. I did you like Spartan, Pillar of Fire and but in some of the parts and dim luster. And so I really didn't he wasn't great at explaining what it was about. He would show me the steps, but I didn't there was a whole underlying dialogue going on there, which I didn't understand.

Speaker I'm confused about something he told you, Ashton's partner. Yes, really, that's are.

Speaker What was he like in rehearsal?

Speaker Sometimes he was very vague and sort of made sort of how shall I say, remarks, and sometimes he was very, very explicit and very helpful. It all depends on what kind of a mood he was in or if he'd had a fight with Lucia that morning and then you couldn't talk to him at all, was he, for example, you worked with Balanchine as well?

Speaker Mm hmm. Was he, uh, fast, like Balanchine?

Speaker No, no. He was much slower, you know. And while he he I think he wanted there was a lot going on and he was just slower. If the thing was set, it was fast, but if he was choreographing, it was slower.

Speaker So how was it that you love ballet theater and. Became involved with love from Dancer.

Speaker I left Ballet Theatre because in those days there were a lot of layoffs and there wasn't any money coming in, they'd lay you off for like three months. So Jerry Robbins said, why don't you come and do a musical? And I said, Sugar, you know? So he said, we're doing I'm doing a musical by the name of Luqman Dancing. And so that was my first musical. And Jerry did that for me.

Speaker The subject was very familiar to all of you. Um, could you talk a little bit about what the subject was and the elements of it that sort of drew on Jerry's own experience?

Speaker Yes. Well, the the it was about this it was about this rich lady who wanted to be a ballerina. And so she was giving a lot of money to the to the company. And she also gave money to this choreographer. And this choreographer wanted to do didn't want to do Swan like he wanted to do new kind of things. So there was a very funny I think she did. But the funniest, Nancy Walker was the star of it. And she did the funniest Swan Lake I have ever seen. I did later on, I did a Swan Lake with Barbra Streisand.

Speaker And but this is this one was just, you know, was the funniest thing. Jerry must have set that for her. And it was just wonderful. And then he did he did a crazy French farce, a ballet, which I know I had.

Speaker I played a a bellboy and then I was dressed up in a skirt and a hand. It was just one of those things where you go in and out of doors, you know, French, French farce. As a matter of fact, Herbert Ross was in played the husband in this played Nancy Warchus husband in this particular ballet. He was one of the one of the boys. It was about a ballet company, the songs and the touring. And there was a there was a funny ballet in the room about the sleeper in the in the sleeping cars going in and out of the berths and all that kind of thing.

Speaker So Jerry Drew, he did he did some wonderful choreography in it. And there was an in sort of an end ballet, kind of a jazz ballet, which he did, which was always going toward that being George Abbott was the director.

Speaker And so it was it was a nice experience. Also, I want to mention one thing about when Jerry in Ballet Theatre, he did a ballet called Facsimile, which Nora, Nora, Chaohu Lang and John Cleese and himself, they alternated the roles, but he brought speech. In he brought speech into the ballet because she she's she screams and she talks at the end of that. So he was always he was pushing even then toward toward speech and dance.

Speaker The one thing you didn't tell me about. Yes. Oh.

Speaker And I'm sorry, time you are hitting all my hitting the thing kind of punctured your senses. Yeah. Oh, OK. On the chair. OK, thank you Peter.

Speaker The one thing you didn't tell me is why it's this plot is I've looked for why it's sort of. It's funny because it's close. It was close to something in your own lives, can you kind of articulate I mean, can you articulate that for me?

Speaker You mean the story of look? Well, it was just it was just about a ballet dancer and and a rich lady who was wanted to give money to a company and become a great ballerina.

Speaker Why did that resonate?

Speaker Well, because because our our, uh, the head of our company was by the name of Lucia Chase, and she was a very rich lady and she built ballet theatre practically from the ground up.

Speaker But she wanted to be a great ballerina. And so that's what that was about.

Speaker And the, um, starring character also, I think, had some things in common with the Jerry called from his own life. Correct.

Speaker Can you explain what those were then? I don't know about that. I don't know.

Speaker Do you remember the lead character? Yes.

Speaker The Eddie character was played by Erlang. But I don't I know he was very ambitious and wanted to do new new ballets and modern ballets. And that's that's what Jerry wanted to do.

Speaker And he was a choreographer. And he was a choreographer, right? Yeah.

Speaker Um, Jerry wrote this about Eddie. There's always some conflict and guilt when he goes chasing after the white horse of success rather than being a decent human being.

Speaker Jerry wrote that about the Eddie Weinberg character. Now, does that sound like Jerry himself or not? And how exactly?

Speaker I don't know about that, maybe Jerry did, but I don't I don't know whether he did that or not.

Speaker Were there things in the Eddie character that you found familiar through Gerry's personality?

Speaker No, not that I know.

Speaker He also wrote about the character, this is coming from Jerry. All this stems from a great insecurity of feeling not accepted by anyone.

Speaker Yes, I would say so you would say I would say that that was maybe just the way Jerry felt and how why why he felt that way and about not being accepted by anyone. I don't know.

Speaker Maybe he alienated people the way he worked, I don't know, but that didn't it didn't affect my relationship with him at all.

Speaker This is not something that that you experienced personally, but I think you may have seen it in look, man. He was very good at working with people who were not classically trained ballet dancers when he was working in the theater and making them look good.

Speaker Mm hmm.

Speaker Can you sort of explain how that applied to look? My particular. You talked a little bit before about Nancy, if you could elaborate on that.

Speaker Well, Nancy was a Nancy Walker was a very talented comedienne. She had done a lot of musicals before this.

Speaker So doing Swan Lake was probably not a very far reach from her. She probably had it on the top of her head right away.

Speaker So all he had to do was exploit her physicality, exploit, you know, the kind of movements you see in a bad dancer. And he knew all of this.

Speaker So it was easy for him to give this to her. And she knew what he was talking about. So she took it like that. And it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Speaker You know, there's a recording out there and was there, Larry? Yeah, we will use it, obviously, something that will help us. Tell me about George Abbott. Who was he and what distinguished him as a director?

Speaker Oh, George Abbott. I think George Abbott. Mr Abbott lived to be about 103, I believe. And he was a great ballroom dancer. He loved to ballroom dance. And he was a very he was a very adroit director of what works and what doesn't work. That's why he doctored a lot of plays. And he knew what he knew the pace and he knew. All I can say is that he was a very fine director.

Speaker He didn't waste much time on auditions. I remember when I auditioned for him, I read a few lines and he says, good enough, that's it. So he he knew what he was looking for and, you know, he didn't waste any time.

Speaker Is that the same way that Jerry worked? And why or why not?

Speaker No, I think you mean about auditions. I think Jerry was more meticulous in his auditions.

Speaker Then I mean about dancers. Yes, I think he was more meticulous than that. He was looking for something special all the time, I think.

Speaker How did he and Jared Abbott work together?

Speaker Oh, I think Mr. Rabbit probably said that dance is too long, cut it, and he was always after Jerry to cut it, which I don't know how that went down.

Speaker But anyway, you don't know how Jerry would respond to that.

Speaker Well, I wouldn't think, um. Can you make it circus?

Speaker No, I didn't. I think when Mr. Rabbit wanted Jerry to cut it. No, I don't think that went down well with him.

Speaker OK, um, you were also with Miss Liberty.

Speaker Miss Liberty? Yes. There you had Irving Berlin, Mozart, Jerry Robbins, Statue of Liberty, Robert Sherwood, Robert Sherman. How did all these powerhouses get along with each other?

Speaker And they seem to get along fine, except that they produced a play that wasn't very good.

Speaker It had a lot of great potential, Miss Liberty, about the Statue of Liberty, my God, and what America stands for, and Irving Berlin and Robert Shearwood. And Maushart, but they missed the boat, they just missed it. I don't know why. The script wasn't wasn't that good? I don't know what happened. I know Jerry did some wonderful things in it.

Speaker He did.

Speaker He did. Let's take an old fashioned walk, very nice no to that he did the policeman's ball number and he did that, of course, that famous number which everybody talks about as Mr. Monotony, which was cut out of another show also. And I believe Judy Garland did it and was cut out of a film. Why? I don't know. When we did that number, it was marvelous. It had all kinds of jazz, as I said, character dancing movements, Jerry's movements. We would stop the show with that every night. And they they felt somehow that it was disturbing the show, disturbing the show.

Speaker The show should have been disturbed. And they said it wasn't good for Alan and McLeary, his character, because she was the model for the Statue of Liberty.

Speaker And it was a little it was a very sensuous kind of piece. But I think, well, they should have left it in anyway, so.

Speaker Oh, did you begin by this time, worked with Jerry several times and yes, have any inkling and if so, why? That he would go on to direct?

Speaker That he would go on to direct?

Speaker Well, I think because he wanted more control where, you know, the director would say, you know, I don't want that or I don't want this, but see, if you do choreography and direction, then you have you have control of the show, which he wanted. We did a I know when I did a show called Call Me Madam with Cherry, we had a several big numbers. And also Ethel Merman did Mr. Monotony. And I don't believe that she liked it when the show got stopped, you know, right after she sang it. And this Danskin of the show would just stop. She didn't like that. Well, I'd say so. I was told, well, it's it's stopping the flow of the show, so we're going to have to get rid of it. I know where that came from.

Speaker If you were a dancer on Broadway in those years, yes, how did you view Jerry Robbins?

Speaker How do I view him, how how did I view him? If I was a dancer, I would I would view him as a very talented choreographer director in that I would like to work for him, even though he is difficult, because that never bothered me. I know later on, Gerri, some of the some of the people in the New York City Ballet didn't like it because he said he would he would grab them and say, I like I want to try something. I want to try some movements or some I've got another version I want to try. And they want I guess they would all run the other way. Let's see. I like that kind of thing.

Speaker Since you started to talk about call me madam, I'm curious about this. There was a number something to dance about, do you? Oh, no.

Speaker Yeah, vaguely. I know we did invade just very vaguely. I know I did it, but I remember it is I'm sure there was also a big gypsy, a big gypsy ballet in that which was cut out, which you had a big I used to.

Speaker There was this I started out with this big bird that I used to swing around my head, and all these gypsy was to come out and dance and everything, all that that went on, because, um, I'm if I understand it correctly, was fairly ruthless with work like that, if it didn't move the show forward.

Speaker This is true in your experience or not.

Speaker I don't know whether it was him or whether it was a situation with the directors saying we've got to get rid of this. So that was, you know, what are you going to do?

Speaker What did you observe about his relationship with.

Speaker That's a good question. His relationship with Mirman, I think, was just one of us one.

Speaker There was the star and there was the choreographer, I don't think they in my knowledge, I don't think they had much relationship at all.

Speaker There's a story I don't know if it's true or not, I read it somewhere you can tell me I read it in one of the Robbins biographies that.

Speaker And call me madam. You were rehearsing and you got an understudy who was you know what I'm talking about. Yes. You want to tell me the story and whether or not it's true?

Speaker I believe it. I don't know. I believe it is true. I don't I know that his name was Billy Winslow and he was my understudy in this particular. I think it was the gypsy dance and this particular number. And when we were you do run through some of the numbers. And and one time I was doing I was doing the number and I happened to turn and I saw Billy doing it in back of me. And I said and I went over to him and I said, please don't do that when I'm doing it. You can do it on, you know, do it in the wings or something, but don't do it in back of me. And that's all that I knew about it, I didn't know that he he said, I read that and I didn't know that he had said that Jerry had told him to do that. And when I when I spoke to Jerry about it, Jerry said I never told him to do that. So I don't know. I don't know what was going on.

Speaker Some performers say that Jerry brought it up the best for you.

Speaker Yes, yes, it certainly was a sense out of that.

Speaker Tell me what Jerry brought out the best in me because I agreed with the way he I love the way he choreographed for me.

Speaker I love what the kind of the vocabulary, the dance vocabulary he was using, I agreed with and I was right right down my alley, the kind of thing that he wanted to do. So he brought out and he would he would inspire me to do more. So that's why I liked working with him.

Speaker You worked with quite a few major choreographers, right?

Speaker You worked with Agnes Gowa, you worked with Fosi course. Yes. Um. Ron Field, how would you distinguish Jerry from all those others?

Speaker Well, he was much Jerry, a different. Oh, he was different from the other choreographers. He was much different from Agnes or Agnes did a great thing for me. One of the best things I ever did in Juno, in the peacock, he was much.

Speaker How can I say he was? He had a he had a great knowledge of he had a great knowledge of classical idiom, you know. Oh, yeah. It just started from Jerry, had a great Jerry, had a great knowledge of all the different aspects of dance, and some of those other choreographers did not. He was very well rounded. He had knowledge of classical ballet, jazz character dancing, and he was always very inventive and always looking for new ways of movement. Fosi see the difference between he and Fawzia's, I don't think Fosi was not well rounded and in ballet, BASIX, ballet, classical ballet, he just was not in his background, which doesn't mean, you know, that he wasn't a good choreographer. But that's that's what I think Jerry strength was. He had he was he had a command of all. All of the idioms. What I learned from Jerry, I learned to be very precise. I learned. To not be afraid of new movement. I learned to perform well from him.

Speaker And to.

Speaker Always approach thing, I think always he had a great love of music and I and I got that from him, that approach a thing from musicality, the music was very important to him. So those are the things I learned from him.

Speaker Is there anything about Jerry or the shows that you worked on together that you would like to tell me that I haven't asked you?

Speaker Um, let me think.

Speaker Just that it was all a wonderful it was all a wonderful experience working with him. I'm sorry that we when I went to Hollywood, we lost touch because he went to Balanchine and the two worlds, you know, I'd go back and study there. But Jerry and I lost touch. He was doing he was doing a show about Robbins on Broadway, I remember. And he wanted me to he had his secretary call me and say, do you remember anything about Mr. Monotony? And I said, well, I'll think, are you coming to New York any time? Then I got another call from him and they sent me a tape of the music.

Speaker And they the secretary again called me and I said, Why doesn't Jerry call me and ask me? He said he didn't have an answer for that. So I'm sorry. And I said, well, you know, I don't remember anything. So I'm sorry we had to end that way because I had a great respect for him and for all of his work, his. The the ballet or. That favorite my every one of my favorite ballets was about the insects, you know what the cage one of my favorite ballets was just look at the movement and everything. It's it almost reminded it's almost like what Killian is doing in there. It is. Of course, Killian is taking it further now. But that was that was the road that he was he was taking. And so he was just I have nothing bad to say about Jerry.

Speaker I know he got very difficult at the end, but he gave a great deal. I'm very glad that I met him. He he gave a great deal to all of us.

Speaker I'm very glad I met him and I'm very glad that I had all those hours rehearsing with him how Nora Kaye affected me in the cage where she was absolutely just startling in it. She she understood what it was about.

Speaker That's one of the things and the music, the whole concept of the ballet, the new movement that she was just she was wonderful.

Speaker And I think that he had brought something new to the theater with that ballet. And and that's what I like, because how many sleeping beauties can one see?

Speaker You know? So that's I love to be startled. And that's the cage did that for me.

Tommy Rall
Interview Date:
2007-07-13
Runtime:
0:40:26
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-th8bg2j415, cpb-aacip-504-f76639kt6b
MLA CITATIONS:
"Tommy Rall, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 13 Jul. 2007, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1011
APA CITATIONS:
(2007, July 13). Tommy Rall, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1011
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Tommy Rall, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 13, 2007. Accessed January 20, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1011

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