Jerome Robbins was born in New York City in 1918. He was trained in modern dance and ballet and began his career in 1937 as a dancer in musicals. In 1940 he moved over to ballet. The first time he created the choreography for a ballet was in 1944 for the show Fancy Free, which was later made into the musical On the Town.
Jerome Robbins became famous as an innovative choreographer for Broadway musicals such as High Button Shoes (1947) and The King and I (1951). Other musicals included Peter Pan (1954) as well as the legendary West Side Story (1957) and Fiddler on the Roof (1964). In 1989 he produced an anthology of his earlier Broadway hits as a large Broadway show. Jerome Robbins was appointed the Associate Artistic Director for the New York City Ballet by George Balanchine in 1949 and from 1983 to 1990 shared the position of Ballet Master in Chief with Peter Martins. He was a soloist in the New York City Ballet and choreographed nine ballets before he founded Ballet: USA in 1959. Many of his 66 ballets are still produced by the New York City Ballet, such as Dances at a Gathering (1969) and Goldberg Variations (1971).
Jerome Robbins was a member of the National Council on the Arts from 1974 to 1980 and from 1973 to 1988 a member of the New York State Council on the Arts/Dance Panel. He established and partially endowed the Jerome Robbins Film Archive of the Dance Collection of the New York City Public Library at the Lincoln Centre. He received numerous awards including the Handel Medallion of the City of New York in 1976, the Kennedy Centre Honours in 1981 and the National Medal of the Arts in 1988. His academic honours included three Honorary Doctorates and an honorary membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985. Jerome Robbins died in 1998.
WEST SIDE STORY could have been called EAST SIDE STORY if the original concept had progressed. In 1949 Robbins had met with Leonard Bernstein to work on an idea of modernizing Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET setting it in New York City and using the relationship of a Jewish girl who falls in love with a Catholic boy and the difficulties that ensue. After much discussion it was felt that this concept was not really workable and the idea was shelved. Six years later, with Stephen Sondheim in tow, the creators revisted the idea and shifted, both geographically and concept-wise to the West Side of the city with tensions between Puerto Rican and white gangs that were then making headlines in their battle for control of turf. This was a wise decision and the resulting WEST SIDE STORY sparked an entire new concept of realistic-story musicals revolutionizing the American Musical Theatre.