Remembering Jerome Robbins

Amanda Vaill at first didn't set out to write a book about Jerome Robbins. The great choreographer, who didn't often give interviews, granted her one for a magazine article she was going to write, but before they got the chance to meet, he died.

“Then I reared forward,” says Vaill, who ended up taking seven years to complete “Somewhere in Time: The Life of Jerome Robbins,” a 675-page tome that some have called the definitive biography of the legendary Broadway and ballet innovator,

The New York-based Vaill is in town in conjunction with San Francisco Ballet’s current program featuring works by Robbins. Tonight, she’ll head up a panel discussion about his Broadway work; next week, she and distinguished guests will cover ballet.

During a recent phone interview, Vaill says that after combing through Robbins’ extensive collection of letters, diaries, scripts, postcards and scenarios, she was most surprised by his honesty and by how well he wrote.

“There were scraps of paper on which he poured out everything. It was pretty amazing,” says Vaill. That discovery, she says, was among Robbins’ many paradoxes.

While stories of his ruthlessness and anger circulated, he also was known to shut down when issues became emotional.

He never married, but had an extraordinarily active love life, romancing both women and men (Montgomery Clift was among them). He kept most of his former lovers “in the loop,” says Vaill.

Considered by many America’s greatest ballet choreographer ever, Robbins also has the distinction of being the only dance maker to have huge, and equal, success with ballet (“Dances at a Gathering,” “Afternoon of a Faun”) and on the Broadway stage “West Side Story,” “On the Town,” “Gypsy”).

Robbins was pleased that his dances had both artistic and popular appeal. But he never would choose a favorite, says Vaill. “He could not pick amongst his ballets. You would get the freeze out” if you asked.

IF YOU GO

‘Robbins on Broadway’

With Amanda Vaill, Rita Moreno, Grover Dale, Sheldon Harnick, Sondra Lee

When: 7:30 p.m. March 10

‘Robbins on Ballet’

With Amanda Vaill, Robert LaFosse, Stephanie Saland, Helgi Tomasson, Edward Villella

When: 7:30 p.m. March 17

Both events:

Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

Tickets: $25 general; $125 includes post-show reception

Contact: (415) 392-4400 or www.cityboxoffice.com  

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