“But I was happy so puzzled it interests me.”

No, it’s not a line from E. E. Cummings. It comes from a letter the dance critic and poet Edwin Denby sent to Jerome Robbins after the 1974 premiere of his ballet Dybbuk. Denby was no longer reviewing dance, but he had seen the ballet, and as a longtime friend of Robbins he was expected to comment on it. The line actually reads as a summation. In Deborah Jowitt’s biography of Robbins—Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance, published in 2004—she quotes this much of the letter:

I’m delighted you did such a strange piece. I couldn’t tell what you were doing. All along I’ve always been able to see what you were doing very clearly but this time I didn’t know. But I was happy so puzzled it interests me.

Denby, himself the strangest of critics—brilliant in the...