- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2011

VIENNA (AP) - The Vienna State Ballet is putting on a performance in memory of renowned U.S. choreographer Jerome Robbins, described by the director of the prestigious ensemble as a complicated genius who worked his casts hard.

Robbins, who died in 1998 aged 79, was the director of such legendary Broadway musicals as “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” But he also created more than 60 ballets and was known to be a stern perfectionist who never accepted second-best. The results were impressive _ both for his audiences and the dancers who worked with him.

“For me, Jerome Robbins _ he was so special,” Manuel Legris told The Associated Press Thursday in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s tribute premiere. “He was just absolutely a genius.”

The Frenchman and former celebrated star dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet recalled the rigors of rehearsing with Robbins, noting he wasn’t an easy man but rather very “precise” and demanding _ sometimes even working his cast “over the limit.”

But it all paid off in the end.

“With Jerome Robbins you arrive at the premiere and you are at the top,” Legris said.

The tribute will showcase three Robbins creations. First there’s “Glass Pieces,” which dates back to 1983 and takes a very modern twist with dancers in multicolored leotards at times jamming the stage but never once colliding. Then there’s the more romantic “In the Night” and “The Concert” _ a laughter-inducing farce. The final two feature music by Frederic Chopin.

At a rehearsal Thursday evening, State Opera chief Dominique Meyer _ who also knew Robbins personally _ said he was sure the pieces would be well received in the Austrian capital.

“I’m very happy because it’s unknown in Vienna … we have to do it,” he said.

Jean-Pierre Frohlich, ballet master for the Robbins Rights Trust, said Robbins was able to connect well with the general public.

“A lot of people that I’ve talked to are always touched by his ballets because they feel comfortable watching them,” Frohlich said.

For Legris, next week’s homage is about honoring a man whose legacy will live on.

“Nobody can take his place … he’s there forever,” he said.



Vienna State Opera: https://www.wiener-staatsoper.at

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