'West Side Story' choreographer honored with New York City exhibit

MIDTOWN, Manhattan (WABC) -- There's now an exhibit in Manhattan for one of the greatest choreographers who ever lived.

Jerome Robbins came up with the moves for musicals as diverse as "The King and I" and "Fiddler on the Roof," but he is perhaps best known for co-directing one of the greatest movie musicals of all-time, "West Side Story."

He captured the soul of our city in all of its grit and glory, told us a "West Side Story" and took us "On the Town."

Robbins was born on the Lower East Side, grew up in New Jersey, crossed back over the Hudson River and never looked back -- showing New York City to the world.

"I think he spent a lot of time observing the city and its residents, because he was endlessly curious," said Julia Foulkes, who is the curator of a new exhibit called "Voice Of My City: Jerome Robbins and New York."

It's up through the end of March at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Foulkes said Robbins knew the city was full of possibility.

"He also was very clear about the limitations and the harshness of what it meant to live here for many people," she said.

Poverty and passion came together in "West Side Story" -- first on a Broadway stage, then on the big screen -- in a masterpiece about the rivalry between a white and Puerto Rican gang.

"It gives us a kind of full human portrait of what it means to live in New York," said Foulkes, who wrote a book about the film that won 10 Oscars, including one for Robbins.

An early scene was shot just a few blocks from Lincoln Center.

"That beginning directly places them literally into the streets of New York and the lives of New Yorkers," she said.

This branch of the library houses a vast collection of Robbins memorabilia, including two dozen of his unique diaries shown together publicly for the first time.

"It's like peeking into his mind," Foulkes said. "And the same can be said about the entire, fascinating exhibit."

When he died in 1998, Robbins left his papers to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the dance collection there is named in his honor.

To this day, a portion of his royalties from "Fiddler on the Roof" goes to support the library.

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