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Evoking the Great White Way, Fancy Free is the precursor to Broadway’s On the Town, presenting three sailors and their escapades on shore leave in Manhattan.
In 1944, Jerome Robbins — then a young dancer with Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre)— choreographed his first ballet, a collaboration with up-and-coming composer Leonard Bernstein. The two wanted to bring a modern American sensibility to ballet, and they hit on the perfect concept: sailors on shore leave in New York City, a common sight in those days. The premiere performance of Fancy Free has become legendary, with two dozen curtain calls for the stunned cast, composer, and choreographer, and raves from the bowled-over critics.
Fancy Free was the inspiration for a full-length musical, On the Town, that was also a great success, and Robbins and Bernstein went on to collaborate on another Broadway classic, West Side Story. Of course, each man had many subsequent successes; Bernstein became the music director of the New York Philharmonic and a prolific composer and conductor, and Robbins was the creative force behind many enduring Broadway hits, as well as the choreographer of some of New York City Ballet’s core works. But it was Fancy Free that put Robbins on the map as someone who had a clear eye for creating compelling movement, a deft hand at telling a story, and a creative vision that was unique in the world of theater.
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