Transcript:

Speaker Tell me how Jerome Robbins came into your life.

Speaker I think that I first met Jerome Robbins in 1954 because Jerry choreographed the children's section in The Nutcracker at the end of the first act, the battle scene. But I'm actually not sure if I remember him or I know that he did it and I think I remember him. So I was 12.

Speaker And where were you in ballet school at that time?

Speaker I was sitting at the School of American Ballet and actually I had been sitting for two months at the time and Mr. Balanchine was going to choreograph The Nutcracker. And there were two boys in the school and all of the School of American Ballet. There were two boys, Rusty Nichols and myself, and I was cast.

Speaker You were cast as the as the child prince was the last time.

Speaker All this time I thought of all the boys in school, it was let's continue with that thought.

Speaker When is your first memory of you? I mean, an actual active memory event that you can recall?

Speaker Well, I auditioned for West Side Story on Broadway after it opened, and I don't really remember him at the auditions, but I remember I was in the show and Jerry came back from having staged the London company of West Side Story and. We were told to take off our makeup and get into our street clothes and come back onto the stage and Jerry. Kept us waiting for a while, and then he came and he had his arms folded like this, and that night he let four people go for principles in the show. And I was very relieved to keep my job. That's my first really powerful memory of Jerry.

Speaker And then what happened, and he let the four people go, but and then did he address the rest of you?

Speaker Yeah, he said he would close the show if it didn't improve, he said, but he was unhappy about and I think we believed him.

Speaker And did he rehearse you?

Speaker Do you know? I don't remember that part. I'm sorry.

Speaker The problem was, looking back on it, what was unusual about the the production of West Side Story for that time?

Speaker I was 16 years old when I got into West Side Story. I was still in high school to be in West Side Story in 1958 and be 16 years old was maybe the coolest thing that could happen to a 16 year old anywhere. So just to be in the show was thrilling to me. I don't think I knew much more much beyond that, it was just fabulous to be in the show.

Speaker Um. So tell me how it happened that you went from a show to the movie.

Speaker When they were going to do the movie, they were auditioning people, doing screen tests, and I screen tested for, I think, Oribe Baby John in action and I was cast as maybe John.

Speaker OK, now, Jerry effectively dispensed with the idea of a singing, dancing chorus and every everybody in the so-called chorus, really, they were parts of the gangs and they had characters, right. Did he work with you on that? How were you made to understand that?

Speaker Well, I was put into West Side Story on Broadway by Howard Jeffries and probably Ruth Mitchell, and so I had done this show for a year, as had many of the dancers in the movie or the the featured players in the movie and. I don't really remember rehearsing the the dramatic scenes, I mean, we rehearsed the dance scenes, we rehearsed the group scenes, the the fabric between being in the show and then doing the movie, the membrane was indiscernible. They just kind of bled one into the other. So you carried many of the things that you did or that's my recollection that you that we carried many of the things that we had done.

Speaker And I think we were probably we had the sense that that was approved of by Jerry because he didn't complain. And if he was unhappy, he would have said something.

Speaker OK, so he didn't actually direct you in terms of scenes as well.

Speaker In the movie of West Side, Jerry did the scenes shot in New York City, which was the prologue. I think it was the prologue. And it took forever because it rained every other day for about two months. And then we went back to Los Angeles. And I know we did we did cool. I don't remember what other dance scenes he was there for. And then Jerry was gone from the movie.

Speaker We'll get back to that. Let's talk about the prologue you rehearsed in Los Angeles, right?

Speaker Yes, we did. And we rehearsed it in Los Angeles and we rehearsed it and we rehearsed it forever in Los Angeles. Tell me about that. Well, I think it was a three month rehearsal period, and many of us had done the show for years and. Jerry had this. I don't know what it was, maybe it was an insecurity, so he would make up versions of a little part of a dance and you'd have version one, A, B, C and D, and then version two, A, B, C and D. I mean, it went on and Jerry would sit there student and say, I want to see to B and I would think or not to be oh my God to be. And we go to B which one was that. That's where I stepped on my right foot, not my left. And I think that he was just whether it was anxiety or I don't know what it was, that was that was a maddening quality. He he had the absolute essence and the versions didn't seem to matter. So it was odd.

Speaker I think he was just sort of doing it because he he was creative and he could just keep twisting the same material to say, what do you think?

Speaker He wanted to create a situation where, Ed, what was.

Speaker I think it was that he did all these versions out of a kind of insecurity. Actually, I really do.

Speaker During the.

Speaker I'm just going to go back a little bit, both Jerry and Bernstein's brought, and this is something I'm asking you to look back on now, because, again, this is not something you would have thought about when you were 16. Both of them brought their experience in the classical theater to musical theater, and that, I suppose in a way, helped what was a sort of ongoing transformation of the American musical theater. Is it possible for you to sort of think about it in those terms and tell me what how you think that manifested itself?

Speaker What do you mean you want me to repeat the question, I can't even remember the damn thing? Well, I think that that both Jerry and Lenny, having a classical tradition, brought the rigors of a long form to what had traditionally been a short form popular songs being, you know, what they are. They are extraordinary, but they are short forms. And I think coming from long, more complex forms, having a background in the classical tradition, gave them muscle, gave them an underpinning, gave them a sense of architecture that probably had not existed.

Speaker At least to the extent that they brought to the musical theater.

Speaker Although the movement in West Side is it's sort of has jazzy inflection, it has Latin inflection. My impression is it can't be done by anybody except somebody who has a ballet technique underneath. If you agree, could you explain why that's true?

Speaker The idea that that West Side is jazz dancing, I think is actually maybe not the right notion because it had a quality of what was the moment about, what was the drama, what were you feeling, what was the dance about? And if the idiom happened to be jazzy or not jazzy, that really wasn't the point. That was a stylistic issue. And it came secondary to what was actually going on, what was happening here.

Speaker And can you talk about that in relation to what Jerry's concerns were? In other words, when he directed you? What did he even when he was choreographing, did he talk to you about motivation or things that you might be feeling or do you know what I mean? It's not. Did he talk to you about slower, faster, longer, shorter? Or did he say they're afraid now they're looking over their shoulder?

Speaker Well, as a choreographer, Jerry wanted clarity. So he would always want things. He would want to pull things out. So he was left with some essence of the step he was working on. And those those are quite familiar things for dancers. I mean, if you study ballet, you know, you're constantly weeding the garden to try to reveal the purity and clarity of a line or a step. So Jerry certainly did that and did it to. An extraordinary extent, I mean, he was very, very particular, and that was both frightening and thrilling because he demanded. Absolutely.

Speaker The best of you and then some and.

Speaker That's a great thing to have.

Speaker Happen to you as an as a I hesitate to say this as an actor because I wasn't an actor, I was a dancer who said some lines. I think that it was more that he cast you. He thought you were right. And then, I mean, I actually don't remember Jerry directing me. As an actor, I mean, I just don't really recall that now, maybe he wasn't maybe because he wasn't there when we shot some of the scenes that were where I was principal, that had to do with acting. But I don't recall Jerry's directing me.

Speaker Do you remember him interacting with lies at all? I mean, maybe it was wise directed at you. Maybe that's why you don't. In the dialogue scene.

Speaker Maybe I've lost my memory, that's why I don't remember, I don't remember.

Speaker Musically, was West Side hard for the dancers? Explain to me what you mean, I'm sorry, musically, was it difficult, was it musically challenging or easy and why?

Speaker I think musically, what side was not Hartford for us, it was it seemed quite straightforward. By the time I got into the show, it had it had entered the vocabulary, our ear, you were singing the songs. I mean, I knew the songs before I got into the show. So the music you grew up with, it's just a part of who you are.

Speaker I know. I'm just guessing now, but I also suspect that it was harder for other people because you're.

Speaker You sure you just did you get that that's just one way.

Speaker So tell me more if you can remember detail about the prologue. How long did you work on and what was it like working on it with Jerry? And then you we'll just talk about the Los Angeles, the.

Speaker What do you remember?

Speaker You know, you're not going to use this, I hated doing the movie. I mean, I just hated doing the movie.

Speaker We spent a lot of time doing essentially stuff. We had all been dancing for a very long time, for three months in Los Angeles rehearsing. And then when you. Shoot, especially on location, you get there at five thirty in the morning, you do bar on the concrete sidewalk there, making your eyes to you're crying, you know, and then you wait until four o'clock till the sun is right, at which time you're totally exhausted, you're stone cold and you have to run around like crazy and do that 15 times in a row. So I didn't really love doing the movie. I didn't have the technique for it. I it just didn't. I loved doing the show. The show where you had the arc of the show from beginning to end was thrilling.

Speaker The movie didn't do it for me as a as a dancer, certainly.

Speaker I can totally understand. Yeah. Hang on one sec. Sure.

Speaker I'd actually want to go back, there's something I want. Yeah, I do. I know I shouldn't do this. No, no, no, no. I became in Howard Jeffries, who put me into the show on Broadway. So I was 16 and Howard, I think was probably 2000. He was very sophisticated and. And Harry and I were both interested in. Injuries, having testified at the House, un-American activities, and so we two guys went to the public library one day and actually looked up his testimony and. I really can't remember anything about it other than the fact that I was amazed that they helped us and they showed us because we felt we would get caught, that jury would know we were doing this thing.

Speaker And the only thing I remember of the testimony was his his being thanked afterwards by the people who were running the the hearing and feeling the horrible humiliation of his having betrayed people and his being thanked endlessly for that at the hearing. And I think that both Howie and I, we never spoke of it again.

Speaker We I think we were sorry we had gone. We both knew what had happened in general terms. But actually hearing the words you felt present at the act, it was a very, very peculiar.

Speaker Very peculiar thing, because she wanted him to like you, you were dependent upon him and he had done something that was. At best, questionable.

Speaker It's interesting that at 16. You had that on your mind.

Speaker Well, you know, I'm the I was the only nine year old who campaigned for Henry Wallace, so I came from that, you know, from that background.

Speaker You know, there's no reporting on that because they were going to record.

Speaker What do you mean there's no recording of it? Oh, there's no film recording. I wondered if I had not actually seen this. I know what you saw.

Speaker I saw a transcript right there, cell phone recording because they started recording and Jerry said, I can't testify. I think you thought about that.

Speaker OK, so the prologue that you are doing and you write. What do you remember about how Jerry was there?

Speaker He was here on the west side of the streets. What do you remember about apart from the five a.m. to four p.m.?

Speaker You know what I actually remember? It's it's Jerry hated me at that time. Jerry hated me. I don't know what happened because Jerry had adored me in the show and then cast me in the movie and then. He did me, but with a virulence, as he could do, and I don't know that I was perhaps defensive in his corrections. I really don't know. Clearly, one place it takes two to tango. So, you know, but that's what I remember most.

Speaker That's what I remember most, because it was palpable and overt and public, his mistreatment, so much so that when Jerry was let go of the movie, Bob Wise came over to me and he put his arm around my shoulder and he said, I think you should be the first person to know. So so that's really what I remember. So perhaps that's why it was unpleasant for me.

Speaker I wonder what that was about for him.

Speaker You know, it matters less to me in retrospect, what it was about him than what it was about me, because at some point I stopped him later when I was a little older, and he treated me very, very gently and respectfully from then on. So it always, you know, you have to you let somebody do that.

Speaker Do you think he was trying to provoke someone?

Speaker He's a complicated fellow, you know, I mean, I think that. That may be if you didn't push back, he couldn't control himself, and so he kept pushing. I always wanted to please him. I mean, I had enormous regard for him and he was the reason we were there. And so I think perhaps it was something excuse me, as simple as. That if you didn't draw a line, he couldn't control his aggressions. I think he adored me, he didn't I you know, who knows, I don't really know. Ultimately we had. A fine relationship when I said this is. You start there, I start here, don't cross. It was fine.

Speaker How can you tell me something about how this ugliness manifested itself? What did he do to you that was so bad?

Speaker You know, Baby John has a variation, I mean, this is the most objective thing I can remember. It's called the Baby John variation in Cool and. When we went back to Los Angeles, we were rehearsing, we were rehearsing cool and he would say David Winters, who did Baby John originally did arrive in the movie.

Speaker He would say, David, show me the variation. He would do it in L.A. It show me the variation. And then we got right to the point that they were about to shoot it. And Jerry said, David, and come next door to the other soundstage, went by, he said, David, show me the variation, David did it. And he said, Eliot, show me the variation. And I did it. And he looked at us and he said, David, you'll do it. And he turned around and walked out, was like.

Speaker I mean, I wasn't even surprised at that point, but it was like, oh my God, what was that about?

Speaker What is that about?

Speaker I David did it beautifully, though, he did I, um, I've heard this, that during shooting he would do things like, um, in order I suppose.

Speaker I don't know why, but I suppose maybe keep people on edge. But he would do things like rehearse it one way and then you get ready to shoot and he'd say, OK, I'll do it to the left or something right before you shot. Is that true?

Speaker I don't remember. Remember, I don't play. Um.

Speaker Talk to me a little bit, since you said you enjoy doing the show so much. Talk to me a little bit about that experience.

Speaker You I don't know who was in it at the time, but, um.

Speaker You and Jerry never reversed you on Broadway. He never came and saw you until the night you told me about, right?

Speaker I don't think so, yeah.

Speaker At the time you were in the show, was there still a kind of separation that was that was hung over from when the show was made between the Jets and the show that I was not a part of West Side Story?

Speaker You know, that legend when they didn't speak to you? No. I mean, I'll tell you honestly, in between matinee and an evening in the course dressing room, we used to play Jack's jets and sharks. Give me a break. We played goddamn jacks. So know the action was we played our roles on the stage. It didn't carry over in the wings or further.

Speaker How what do you remember about, if you do, about how involved Jerry was in how the dancers were shot?

Speaker Do you remember him working with the cinematographer, for example, planning certain shots for the prologue?

Speaker I remember Gerry standing around with a, as it called the viewfinder. Yeah. And so but Gerry was not inclusive. In other words, you were the dancer and that was fine. I mean, this is not a complaint of any sort, but he did not share with you his intention or his overriding concern. He just shared with you so that he would get from you what he needed from you. And so you were aware that it was a much more complicated project and you were a cog in that wheel and happy to be a cog in the wheel.

Speaker But did you observe him working with Wise or with the cinematographer on how things were going to be shot? The reason I'm asking you this is that when you look at the picture, it seems to me you can pretty much tell when he was there and when he wasn't there.

Speaker Why did I look happier? I'm sorry.

Speaker In terms of the shot, you can see the numbers where he was there, really, I think.

Speaker I don't know. I mean, I. I don't think I've ever seen the movie from beginning to end, so I really don't know.

Speaker Um, what do you remember about shooting cool.

Speaker I remember what I remember about shooting cool was I came down with acute bronchitis and was sent to the hospital for three days in the middle of it. And so they shot around me and then I came back and I was back into it. I remember the the roof being very low on the garage or the set. That was a garage.

Speaker That's what I remember.

Speaker Do you remember how long it took to shoot?

Speaker Well, the three days I was in the hospital.

Speaker Oh, I think probably I'm really guessing maybe four or five shooting days. Six shooting days. I don't not not at all. Do you really?

Speaker Why do you think that? Because I've read it in several places.

Speaker Well, now you get it from the horse's mouth and you read it. No, I have no idea. You could be right.

Speaker OK.

Speaker Do you remember a story that, uh, when you were shooting that piece was over, that all the dancers in the piece did something? To sort of celebrate the ending of the shooting, do you remember that?

Speaker No. What did we do having to do with. What did we do? Knee pads?

Speaker No, I don't root, apparently, Jesus Christ, apparently everybody took off their kneepads. Put them in a huge pile in front of Jerry's, wherever he was staying, and made an enormous.

Speaker I think that's bullshit. I mean, people have said it.

Speaker Maybe it's just I bring it all.

Speaker No, no, I, I remember fire no, I was there for the end, I really think that's apocryphal. They made it up. I think it's apocryphal. I don't think it's so.

Speaker All right. The rumble or anything of the rumble shooting it.

Speaker Shooting the rumble, the only thing I remember was that the wall was very high and they were just a few of us that could run and scale it and I was among them. That's all I remember.

Speaker Jerry ever seemed pleased with the work the dancers were doing.

Speaker And if you did, that's such a curious question.

Speaker Did Jerry ever seem pleased?

Speaker I don't recall his being pleased, but I'll tell you, when Jerry did not reproach you or correct you, you knew that he was pleased and one took that, I think, appropriately as a compliment. He found nothing to be disturbed about. That was his version of pleasure.

Speaker Well, given that he was, by many accounts, so hard on people. Why was it that everybody was just bending over backwards to please him?

Speaker When you worked with Jerry, he knew something that you didn't, he knew something about the intention, what was going on, he had some.

Speaker Incredible.

Speaker Personal need to articulate this thing that was in him, and he one never felt that he asked more of you than he asked of himself. And so he set the standard for commitment.

Speaker And one wants to be led by somebody who's wiser, that has more information. And this jury provided.

Speaker Extraordinarily. And I think that's why if you had those qualities within you at all, you relish the time with him because he made you the best that you could be.

Speaker What how would you characterize, if you could, the difference what what difference did his presence make on the film?

Speaker In other words, you had a particular experience and then one day he was gone.

Speaker And how is it different?

Speaker Well, you asked what difference jury's presence made on the film jury's presence imbued the film entirely. Certainly when he was there as a principal protagonist in the action. But I think even beyond that, to some extent, to a great extent, I mean, we had all been imbued by Jerry. You know, you didn't spend three months rehearsing with him having done the show, spent three months rehearsing with the movie, then shot with him for three months. And you were altered. You understood the line. You understood he put you in touch with the vein of awe that he was interested in exploring. And I think that maybe it got somewhat diluted or vitiated after his departure. But I think it was largely there. I think even for people like like Natalie Wood, I think that. She had been launched and we we all had been launched.

Speaker So how is it different after the.

Speaker It was how is it different after he was more relaxed? It was just more relaxed, but also a lot of the very, very hard dance scenes had been done. And and the shooting for most of us was more episodic than it had been in the dance.

Speaker The film was mostly success. More severe flooding, we're going to show you the theory about why that might be.

Speaker You know, my feeling about the show and the movie are so opposite that reality, the reality that the show really only ran for a year or so on Broadway, then went on tour, did come back to Broadway, and that the movie was so successful. I never. I never. The show had a reality to me that was visceral, you know, once you accepted the conceit. This is a stage, these are dancers. That's a flat. You when you go to the theater, you need to accept that. And one accepted that happily in West Side Story for me, when the opening of the movie, when you were on a real city street and they zoomed in and you had dancers on pavement, I thought, no, sorry, these are not these are not kids in a gang. These are dancers. And for me, the disjunction between the reality of the street and the artifice of the dancing for me never worked. So you ask me, why was the movie so successful and the stage play less successful? I'm the wrong one to ask.

Speaker OK, what you're describing is a huge challenge for the filmmakers, which.

Speaker Most people would say they pretty much saw I see what you're talking about, but the jury especially went about trying to solve them in a particular way that nobody had before.

Speaker Well, don't use this. But the minute they came in and they were there on the seesaws or whatever, I like I said, fagots, sorry, fagots. No way. You're not you are not the guys, huh?

Speaker I've spent too long in the dance world before we get to side.

Speaker Is there anything, anything that you remember, especially in terms of our interaction with Jerry or your experience on the set or in the theater that you would like to?

Speaker You certainly were sure about that.

Speaker Now, a mutual friend told me that you replaced him filler at some point I want you replaced in Fiddler at some point.

Speaker I was in American Ballet Theatre for three weeks. I know I get there, so I was in the American Ballet Theatre for three weeks. I had just joined the company and then we had a six month layoff.

Speaker I was 20, 21 years old, and I called Jerry and I said, Jerry, I have a six month layoff.

Speaker Do you have any work? Is there something that I could do? And so he said, go see Tommy backstage at Fiddler.

Speaker And I think there might be something. So I got hired the next day and I was swing boy in Fiddler. And one week later, Tommy Abbot said, Elliot, I have to go to Israel to set the Israeli company of Fiddler and I want you to be dance captain.

Speaker And I said, Tommy, I don't know the show. How can I be in charge of the show? And I don't know the show. And he said, Here's the book. And you're the one I trust of all these people here. You'll take care of it. So that's captain of Fiddler on the Roof after about two weeks of being a swing boy in the show.

Speaker So that's how I got in it.

Speaker That's amazing. Also, something happened between the time you were so greatly relieved that Jerry left.

Speaker That I didn't get him fired. No, but you didn't feel that bad.

Speaker Yeah, so something happened between that point and you're taking the initiative to call him and say, could I work for you again?

Speaker Yeah. What how do you reconcile those?

Speaker They did a revival of West Side Story at City Center and Jerry Friedman was directing it, and again, I was, you know, a kid out of work. I was 19 or whatever, and I called Jerry Friedman and said, can I get in the show?

Speaker He said, everything's cast. He said, I have nothing for you. I said anything. I need to pay my rent. I need I need a job. And he said, well, I could hire you as a shark. But he said, I would feel really I said, don't feel bad, don't feel bad, hire me as a shark. I'll be happy. I'll pay my rent. It'll be fine. And then the day before the show opened, Jerry came in to rehearse it and I was like, Oh, God.

Speaker And.

Speaker I was the first another fellow in myself for the first two sharks to come on stage downstage left in the first wing, and we just came on and they went back and we backed off stage and. Jerry stopped when we got to that point, and he said not credible or something to that effect, do it again.

Speaker We must have done it. 15 times. Fifteen, I mean.

Speaker And then Jerry came up onto the stage and he pulled all of the jets, all of the jets right aside, and he was talking to them in a little huddle. And I said to the fellow that I was doing this little entrance and exit with, be careful. Just be careful.

Speaker And Jerry went out to the audience and they did it again and we came on and they went back and we started to back off and somebody just shoved me so that I went I mean, flying into the wall.

Speaker And I came out onto the stage like a raving person, dove across the stage for this person's throat.

Speaker I mean, I never I can't even hit anybody. I've never done anything like that. So there was this great big scene and.

Speaker Then when it had calmed down and the foam had, you know, been wiped from my mouth, Jerry was in the audience and he was right at the orchestra pit and he said, well, you would never do that. And I turned to him. I said, if anybody ever touches me again, anybody, you hear me?

Speaker And from then on, it was fine. Just that was the moment when we just said no, too far. So that was that was what had changed.

Speaker So, OK, you went from I don't use that, please don't teach them to sew you you actually were never in the show except when you said I was in the show every night.

Speaker Somebody was always saying yes or I just said, I'm doing the bottle dancing because it was so there was one dance in the show. It was the bottle dance. And I did it every night. I was on payroll because it gave me something to do. It was just fun to do. I mean, you know, just fun to do.

Speaker Actually, the funny story there is that that when Tommy Abbott was gone, Maria Cardona, Oliver was replaced by Bea Arthur and it was my job to put Bea Arthur into the show for the dance scenes so I would watch.

Speaker Who maybe wasn't even Maria? I can't even remember it, it wasn't Maria. I'm wrong because she did the wife.

Speaker But anyway, I had to put Bea Arthur in the show and I would watch the show at night and learn and with the book. And I would learn from here to there.

Speaker And then I would rehearse Bea Arthur the next day. And we get to the part where I didn't know anybody say that's enough for today. We'll go on tomorrow. And that's how I that's how I put her in the show.

Speaker So tell me about the dance. Why was it so much fun? It looks hard.

Speaker The bottle dance was fun because because it was actually dancing and it was really although I adored Fiddler, I thought Fiddler was just fabulous and I thought zero was I watched him every night.

Speaker He was extraordinary. It was the physical dance. It was.

Speaker It wasn't challenging, I once once you got the feeling that the battle was not going to fall off your head, which hopefully you got that feeling in rehearsal, it was just fun to do.

Speaker How did you learn how to do?

Speaker How do you learn how to do what? How? How do they teach people how to do that?

Speaker How do you learn how to do the bottle dance and Fiddler? Well, you have a hat that goes in and you have a champagne bottle which is heavily weighted on the bottom because champagne bottles are and gravity does it. If you don't disturb it, the bottle stays on your head.

Speaker There's so much going on underneath the legs, they're shooting out and now you're just crawling forward and know.

Speaker Why is that number so brilliant? I mean, that number stops to show every night.

Speaker I don't I have no idea, I'm I'm not an audience, so I knew it was fun to do. I'm not sure that I ever saw the show from the front.

Speaker I'm not sure I ever saw the show from the front.

Speaker Well, tell me what you to.

Speaker I think that what I loved about Fittler was that zero reminded me of my grandfather's praying, davening. I actually think that's what it was. I remember like I remember zero and carrying davening, saying the morning prayers and talking to his wife. And I remember my grandfather with his Tolleson, his filan, and he would be davening by the window and he would be having a conversation with my grandmother who was in the kitchen, and he did it. It was when zero did it. It was so entirely real and so filled with life and wit.

Speaker I think that I I think that's what killed me about the show. Um.

Speaker But this is about your not about me, I'm sorry, um.

Speaker You mentioned before that there wasn't a lot of dancing on the show. There wasn't, but there was use of dance in a way and use of movement throughout the show. Can you talk a little bit about how Jerry used.

Speaker Pattern and movement to sort of. Describe the community and then its eventual dissolution.

Speaker I don't really feel equipped with that show. Somehow I learned it so quickly, I was in charge, I was in charge of it before I knew it, and then I was gone. It was very episodic for me and I. I don't feel qualified.

Speaker Did you ever talk to you about. His own feelings about his own Jewishness should have conversations like that with Jewish.

Speaker No, he never did.

Speaker Now, the only thing he ever did was he he he gave me a copy he bought me.

Speaker Goodbye, Columbus, when it first came out and he bought me something, Isaac babbles short stories, I think.

Speaker Why did he buy a good.

Speaker He was being nice. OK, or symbolic or something.

Speaker OK, so he actually never worked with you on Fittler.

Speaker No. OK.

Speaker Eventually, these six months went by. You went back to obtain, right. And how did it happen that you got cast in Gerry's ballet and did he work with you on that? In which ballet, Nancy.

Speaker I don't think that Jerry cast me in fancy.

Speaker I think that fancy was exclusively owned by Ballet Theatre and.

Speaker I don't think he cast it, I think that Lucia or whoever was had her ear, did the casting, did he rehearsed it.

Speaker He rehearsed the the night we went on.

Speaker He came in, I don't know if was at seven o'clock. Yes, he came in.

Speaker We were worse for her for a half hour, 40 minutes, he was changing things, I was dying. The three new boys, we were just fainting, we were fainting. We were so anxious and he was changing things. We hardly knew the first person and he was changing. And anyway, it went fine and.

Speaker Well, tell me about do you remember, Coach?

Speaker It was a half hour before we danced the ballet.

Speaker I mean, I don't remember anything that can't be the only time I.

Speaker I really it really was it was the only time. It was the only time. It's the only time I recall ever working with him.

Speaker I had a private session with Jerry and I don't believe I did.

Speaker Um.

Speaker But were you did you ever denseness?

Speaker That's actually the one new thing I ever did with Jerry.

Speaker So tell me about. What was first of all, tell me about what the valley was.

Speaker Jerry came to do Leno said American Ballet Theatre, I think it was just ballet theatre in those days and.

Speaker I had some dread because my background was checkered with him and.

Speaker He really used all the boys in the company, so and it was tentative at first. But then once we started working. It was great, I mean, it was great working on the dance. He was very, very nervous about the ballet. I'm not sure if he had done a ballet, a dance, an art dance in some time. What was this, 64, something like that, yeah, 71 and the score made him nervous.

Speaker The history of the ballet made him nervous and his person made nervous. And I remember him rehearsing the boys section, not rehearsing, choreographing it. And he was so concerned about, you know, the meters kept changing every measures five, six, three, three, eight.

Speaker And he had a blackboard in the front of the studio in which he would write down. You know, the measures, the counts, and after about two hours of us bumping into one another, we kind of said, you know what, Jerry? Could we not use the blackboard because. We'll do this, we can do this, and then it actually started it started to flow.

Speaker I think he had, like all big balls, you need to have a plan going in because time is finite, because you've thought about it a long time, because you're obsessive by nature, I mean, for all of the reasons that one tries to control the uncontrollable. So I think that there was a lot of that.

Speaker But then you would see when the reality and the imaginings, the pre imaginings didn't.

Speaker Coincide or the one reality, the reality in the room was one thing, and you have to always observe the reality in the room and you would see him wrestling to find out what path it needed to go in relinquishing his preconception and dealing with the reality there. And that was I mean, that was just a wonderful thing to participate in because you knew that you were the material of the dance.

Speaker In a way that when you do a revival, you haven't you don't have that feeling, you're emulating something that's been done. So it was that was great.

Speaker Were you what part did you have?

Speaker Well, I had a part that didn't really exist because there was the matchmaker and Ted Kivett was that. But then Jerry kind of like the way I danced during the course of his choreographing it. So I became this kind of odd character.

Speaker I don't know, because I was like matchmakers, surrogates or something, so it didn't have a name.

Speaker Maybe it had a Russian name, I don't know. Do you see any relationship between the similar material and notes?

Speaker No, I don't see any relationship between it, between fiddler and nuts, I mean, only in the sense that Jerry was always interested in community. He was always interested in community, whether it was the community of a gang, the community of a shtetl, the community of this fictitious Russian. Society, I think Jerry was very concerned with belonging, you know, looking back and the nature of belonging.

Speaker Was there anything apart from what you're responding to, the choreography, the dance material? In the dance material level knows what you see in his work.

Speaker Is there anything in terms of you say he was he was concerned with the idea of community? What makes you think that?

Speaker Just the work. I only the work. I mean, my observation about his concern for community comes from my observing his work or my participating in his work. Even the three sailors and fancy. I mean, that's the community. I think that he was very concerned with community.

Speaker But, you know, when you do architecture, you're doing community, I mean, community and architecture really start. Where does one begin?

Speaker In the other end, they they they interact in ways that you can't really separate. I mean, because a symphony is community.

Speaker So I just want to go back to something before we leave the theater. Um, did you downstairs part?

Speaker I did. You and Michael. He came later. Yeah, so well, I was younger, yeah, I remember Michael dancing.

Speaker Uh, um, tell me about dancing that part. What was it like?

Speaker Well, dancing fancy was wonderful, especially when I first did it, because I danced it with Eddie Verso, whom I had known since I was 12 years old. We had gone to high school together. I mean, it was just we were in West Side together and Billy Glassman, who I knew less well. But, you know, you were three young guys doing this wonderful dance together. I was in love with a girl who sat at the table when I did the variation. So I danced for her. I mean, I was 22, 23. What could be better was great.

Speaker What is it about that ballet?

Speaker Well, the music for fancy is wonderful, the choreography, especially for the solos, is wonderful, the actual choreography for the first dance is a little bit peculiar.

Speaker In that it doesn't sit naturally in the body, but I think what happens in the course of that dance is the relationships between.

Speaker The boys, the three sailors is forged, and I think that's the importance of that dance.

Speaker So tell me about the variation of the.

Speaker Well, I did the rumba and.

Speaker It's hard to describe the pleasure of dancing. It's the rhythms, it's the shapes, it's the it's the nuance. It's it's the look in the eye.

Speaker It's turning the head. It's putting your hip out. It's seducing the girl.

Speaker It's it's it's being a young and potent and and in in charge of your body. I mean, those are great pleasures of youth.

Speaker So your relationship, um, changed, I guess, with Jerry over the years. Hmm. Um.

Speaker And at some point. Is this correct that you actually thought about starting a ballet company together?

Speaker Actually, can we just go back for a second? It's just a story that may, may or may not be of any relevance. I think it was in 1968 or something like that. The Royal Ballet came here and danced Nijinsky's version of Lenos at the Met. And I'm not sure if it had been done in this country in Jerry's lifetime or in Jerry's attending the theater lifetime. And it happened that I was.

Speaker At the theater and Jerry was in the seat directly in front of me and. We saw Linus and I was thrilled out of my mind for the ballet, I just was overwhelmed at its power and its beauty and its architecture. And without even realizing, after the applause had stopped, I kind of reached over and grabbed your shoulders and said, Jerry, was that fantastic? Wasn't that fantastic? And he turned around. And the minute I said it, I went, oh, God. And he turned around and he said. It was an unbelievable thing to witness, he said if I had seen it before I had done it, I would never have dared.

Speaker So it was a nice moment and I think. Yeah. What would you say, um, you've worked with so many choreographers as a dancer, right? OK, what would you say distinguishes Jerry from other.

Speaker What distinguished, working with Jerry from working with other choreographers.

Speaker His intensity, his monomania. His concentration, his willingness to spare nothing. To get. To what he wanted. His.

Speaker Dexterity is not the right word his, because he wasn't really he didn't seem dexterous. It wasn't easy. But his relentlessness in pursuing.

Speaker For himself, from himself, that which would satisfy him and from you.

Speaker I think those by degrees, because all choreographers have many of those things, but he had it in extremis.

Speaker Um.

Speaker Did you learn anything from him about how to make a ballet? And if so, what?

Speaker Did I learn anything from Jerry about how to make a ballet? Well, I think that you learn from dancing and from seeing so that's really how a choreographer that's your education, the rest is.

Speaker Do you have talent, you not you have a voice, do you not have a voice? So I think that I did learn. From him, but then a lot of the things that you learn from people that precede you, you need to shed. So, you know, I learned from him, but, you know.

Speaker You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't, you need to find who you are and you spend really your life doing that if you're lucky enough to do that.

Speaker Now, is it true that you, too, thought about starting a ballet company at one point?

Speaker No, it's not true. What happened was that when I was.

Speaker About to begin, a ballet company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Speaker I went to jury and asked him if he would give us some ballets, this is when Harvey just started trying to revive them, which he did very well, and.

Speaker Jerry proposed the notion that we could direct Ballies, USA, together, and for reasons that don't really matter, it just. It didn't happen, and so that's that's that story.

Speaker Um, at some point, though, you decided to start your own company. And was he supportive of that?

Speaker No, he was not supportive of that. I think the jury.

Speaker When Jerry had proposed this notion of of his reviving Families USA in that we serve as co directors, I mean, my I don't know if Jerry ultimately would have gone forward with that, who knows? But I walked out on it because I told them that I just had left Lucia and I couldn't now be in Jerry's house. It was it was an equivalency of stature, of experience, of power. And I needed to just go my way. And really from that time, it was very laissez faire. He was hands off.

Speaker So but at some point, I understand you showed him I don't know if it was a draft of Harbinger or no rehearsal popinjay. I understand. And he.

Speaker This is earlier. Yes, because I hadn't choreographed yet, he didn't ask me to be the video director before I choreographed when I was in ballet theater and in 1966 or 67, I made two dances with dancers that he knew, Eddie Verso, Erin Martin to a piece of music. And I asked, I had never choreographed anything. And I did these two dances and I asked Jerry if he would come in and look and tell me was what was this?

Speaker And he came and he adored the dances. And we went out and had coffee afterwards and.

Speaker He said, you what are you going to do with this? And I said, well, actually now I think I have an idea for a ballet, but it takes more people and I don't have that many friends. And these people work for nothing. And I. What do you think that I should do? He said, well, if you like, I'll I'll speak to Lucia and tell her that she should do this. And I never spoke to him about it again. But somehow the next thing I knew, I was choreographing Harbinger at Ballet Theatre. So he was absolutely instrumental in my getting to choreograph.

Speaker There anyway, yeah, that's pretty great. It is pretty great. Yeah.

Speaker Now, one point I understand you and Jerry went to Capitol Hill to testify, I think together before the Congress was.

Speaker Yes, well, it was when Reagan was first elected and was eviscerating or attempting to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts, and there were the disciplines were asked to come and testify in front of the House subcommittee, blah, blah, blah.

Speaker And, oh, God, I just remembered I'm sorry. I got a call from the American dancers.

Speaker They were they were helping put together the panels that would would speak and. This woman from the American Dance Alliance, I believe. She said she explained what it was and that asked me if I would like to be to head the panel. And with uncharacteristic prudence, I said, well, who is going to be on the panel? And among the name mentioned was Jerome Robbins. And I said, excuse me, it seems altogether inappropriate for me to be heading a panel that Jerry Robbins is one of several. And she said, well, to tell you the truth, we already asked him and he does not want to head the panel.

Speaker And I said, well, I'll tell you, I'll call Jerry and I will tell him how I feel. And if Jerry still does not want to head the panel, well, then I will. So I called Jerry and I said, Jerry, it seems absolutely on deadline for me to be heading the panel on which you are a panelist. Won't you reconsider? And I thought I think the thought of second billing got to him right there. And he said, you know what? I'll do it. So that was the story.

Speaker OK, so then you went to camp. Yes, then what happened? Well, Jerry. Jerry could hardly speak. It was so.

Speaker Peculiar and I think the only thing I could think of, he was very unsure of himself in in in his vocal production in every way, he was just he was nervous and seemed to be incredibly anxious when he spoke and made his little pitch.

Speaker And I actually thought.

Speaker These congressional committees, they got them, you know, I think he was reliving the other one and I think that I couldn't imagine why, other than it was fraught in some historical way for him, that he would be that unsure.

Speaker That's really all that I recall, really understand.

Speaker You can really understand that.

Speaker His Broadway and Jerome Robbins Broadway show was rehearsed at eight, nine, eight. Did you guys have any contact around the time that. It went on forever, I think.

Speaker Well, every all of Jerry's rehearsals went on forever, so at some point maybe a coffee, um, when you think that.

Speaker On all your experiences with Jerry, what is foremost in your mind?

Speaker It's strange, maybe because it was the most recent experience.

Speaker And so I'm saying this hopefully. Jerry came to, oh, I'm going to start again. I had to ask Jerry maybe in 1990s, I don't know, a year or two before Jerry's death, I hadn't seen Jerry in years and I asked him if two of my young dancers could learn foreign. And. He said, yeah, you can learn to not going to do it. I said, well, we'd be happy just to learn it, to be great for them to learn. And if you come and see it and whatever you decide, that's fine. So we learned it and Jerry came down to our studios at eight ninety.

Speaker And I thought he would look at the dance, it would take 10 minutes, and I hadn't seen Jerry in a long time and I was actually shocked. At. How he had aged and how unstable he was, his equilibrium was gone, he just could not walk in a straight line. I mean, he couldn't keep his balance. And he conducted a three hour rehearsal. These two little kids.

Speaker And I had to trail him around the room because he was not. At all stable and it was the most nerve wracking three hours I ever spent because it was somehow humiliating. I felt that it was humiliating for me to be walking by his side, being sure he didn't fall and he would stumble seriously 20 feet until he could recant and you would be kind of partnering him and there was something so. Fragile and sad and. True about what it is, the arc of life to see this, the lion of the jungle lose his teeth, although he still had the determination to see the fragility, to see the pieces beginning to come apart.

Speaker It was very poignant. It was very, very poignant to me. And I think also because I was a grown man in my 50s. That I remember that very, very vividly and with great.

Speaker Not pain.

Speaker But a kind of empathy and sense of the finiteness. The dancers that Jerry was rehearsing in phone came from public schools.

Speaker And trained at. Ballet, tech, and I don't think they knew who he was.

Speaker I don't think they knew who he was. And I was so pissed at them because they didn't get it. They really didn't get it. And I would be behind him and I would be going.

Speaker I don't think it was just.

Speaker Culturally and generationally, here was this stuttering, doddering old man, and these were 15 and 16 year old. Kids from the street, and I don't think even if they knew he had done this year, then that it had no it had very little currency for them. That was also something that was so very peculiar. I mean, they worked for him, but they didn't really get it. They didn't get it.

Speaker It's a whole nother discussion. Yeah, um, when you think about how, Djerriwarrh, could you characterize it more as a perfectionist or realist?

Speaker Would I think of him as a perfectionist or a realist?

Speaker I'm not sure I understand.

Speaker I mean, was he somebody who. In his. Striving for perfection, was that paramount always in his mind, or did he ultimately realized the clock is ticking and he had to get the show on and he would do whatever was necessary within the time?

Speaker Well, certainly, Jerry was a perfectionist, this there's little no doubt, and whether or not she was a realist, I don't think that you survive. I think that Jerry stretched reality, that he tried to have reality conform to his need.

Speaker And when it didn't, I'm sure that sometimes he would bend and I'm sure other times he would walk and I didn't, you know, I think that that's fine. That's who he was. And that's why he was able to do some of the wonderful, extraordinarily inventive work that he did.

Speaker But. He was, in reality just his.

Eliot Feld
Interview Date:
2006-07-18
Runtime:
1:11:10
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-125q81552c, cpb-aacip-504-zs2k64bn4v, cpb-aacip-504-g73707xb46
MLA CITATIONS:
"Eliot Feld, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 18 Jul. 2006, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/985
APA CITATIONS:
(2006, July 18). Eliot Feld, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/985
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Eliot Feld, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 18, 2006. Accessed January 25, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/985

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