An accordion piece of paper; brightly collage with images

Jerome Robbins (1918–1998)
Diary, Volume 5

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center


Diary, Volume 5

Transcript below

Music: “Prologue” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein.

Anna Deavere Smith: Take a moment to examine this selection from the diaries of acclaimed American choreographer Jerome Robbins. Over the course of 13 years, Robbins filled 24 accordion-style notebooks with reflections, aspirations, poetry, watercolors, collage.  Written in colored pen—sometimes vertically, or in circles—Robbins’ mixed-media diaries explode with vitality and creativity.

By the time Robbins began his diaries at age 53, he had already established himself as one of the most important figures in American dance. With mega-hits like West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, he had expanded audiences’ notions of what was possible for dance in musical theater. His work at the New York City Ballet had won him popular and critical acclaim.

Yet, despite his incredible success, Robbins’ diaries reveal an artist bedeviled by self-doubt.  They paint a profoundly human picture of a middle-aged gay man in the 1970s and early-80s America. He writes of his bouts with severe depression; the stress of a turbulent relationship and breakup; of reconnecting with his Jewishness—even his abiding guilt for having “named names” in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The New York Public Library’s Dance Division is named for Jerome Robbins. It houses an enormous trove of his personal and professional papers. And these diaries—admired for their distinct artistry and intimacy—are the crown jewels of that collection.

End of Transcript

We gratefully acknowledge the editorial guidance of Julia Foulkes of The New School. “West Side Story - 1. Prologue,” written and conducted by Leonard Bernstein, is used courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Publishing.

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