When Jerome Robbins died on July 29, 1998, at the age of seventy-nine, the world lost not one choreographer, but two. One of these choreographers was a genius.

This was the Jerome Robbins who choreographed thirteen Broadway shows—leg- end among them On the Town, The King and I, Peter Pan, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof. This was the Robbins who conceived, directed, and choreographed West Side Story, the musical and film phenomenon that had every baby-boomer boy in America attempting that chesty Jets leap, that T (for testosterone) in the air. And this was the Robbins of Fancy Free, a ballet whose character— down-to-earth, free of classical pretensions is captured forever in its title.

In fact, Fancy Free was Robbins’s birth cry, his c’est moi. Though he studied widely--modern dance, ethnic, and ballet in the...

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