When I started reviewing dance in New York City, Jerome Robbins was alive and well and making ballets for the New York City Ballet. It was 1984, the year after George Balanchine died. Peter Martins was the story then, intensely watched, each new ballet a clue to what he might do with Balanchine’s kingdom, for it was Martins who had stepped into the directorship and Martins who was steering the company. There’d been a skirmish about that. Robbins pulled a Philip Larkin—he didn’t want the job but he felt the least they could do was offer it to him. Robbins was given the title of “co-ballet master in chief,” and his presence at NYCB continued as always: he was a deputy who was a genius and in those dark days a ballast. So he was a surety, a continuity, choreographing new pieces until his death in 1998.

I didn’t pay proper attention to Robbins in those fourteen years. I was...

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