Jerome Robbins had a daunting reputation as a stern taskmaster, a perfectionist who never accepted second-best from anyone, certainly not himself.
It led him to the top of the theatrical, film and ballet worlds: choreographer of landmark Broadway musicals such as "West Side Story" and "Fiddler on the Roof," Oscar-winning film director, famed ballet creator.Robbins, who suffered a stroke Saturday, died Wednesday at his Manhattan home, said New York City Ballet spokesman Steve Miller. Robbins was 79.
"He was the last of the titans in the world of dance," said Peter Martins, head of the New York City Ballet. "Balanchine is gone. So is Ashton, Tudor and Graham. And now Jerry."
Robbins once said of himself, "I'm enormously demanding. I ask for a great deal, but no more than I give myself."
His first ballet creation was "Fancy Free" for Ballet Theater, later the American Ballet Theater. He, Harold Lang and John Kriza danced the roles of three sailors on shore leave to music by Leonard Bernstein. That led him to Broadway, where the story was fleshed out with more Bernstein music and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green to become "On the Town" in 1944.
"He was a genius," Comden said. "He could do choreography for contemporary people and then he had this vast classical output as well."
Robbins choreographed Broadway shows in a variety of moods: "High Button Shoes," "Miss Liberty," "Call Me Madam," "The King and I," and "Wonderful Town," between 1947 and 1953.
Beginning with "Peter Pan" in 1954, he directed as well as choreographed "Bells Are Ringing," "West Side Story," "Gypsy" and "Fiddler on the Roof." "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" in 1989 was dance numbers comprising a retrospective of his Broadway career.
"West Side Story" told the story of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in the guise of contemporary gang turf wars in New York. The 1961 film version won 10 Oscars. Two went to Robbins: for best director, shared with Robert Wise, and for choreography.
Dances from Robbins' Broadway shows stick in the memories of people who saw them: from the delicate "I Still Get Jealous" in "High Button Shoes" to Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence swirling across the stage in "Shall We Dance?" in "The King and I" to the Jewish peasant dances in "Fiddler on the Roof" and the raunchy strippers demonstrating "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" in "Gypsy."
Robbins didn't have a Broadway dance style. He had a style that dug into the heart of the show and made it visual.
Throughout his Broadway career, Robbins worked in ballet. He joined the New York City Ballet in 1949 as associate artistic director with George Balanchine. For the troupe, he created "The Cage" in 1951, "Afternoon of a Faun" and "Fanfare" in 1953 and the hilarious "The Concert" in 1956.