For 62 years, Floria Lasky served the arts community as Entertainment Attorney to the Stars, putting her legal smarts to the use of such clients as Jerome Robbins, Tennessee Williams, David Merrick, Frederick Loewe and Jule Styne. One of her most important positions, however, was that of President of the Jerome Robbins Foundation, which she assumed after the legendary choreographer and director died in 1998. Almost exactly one year after her death in September of 2007, the Jerome Robbins Foundation will honor her memory with the presentation of the very first Floria V. Lasky Award to New York City Center. The September 26 ceremony will also feature the presentation of the Jerome Robbins Award to San Francisco Ballet and Twyla Tharp.
The creation of the award seemed obvious to the trustees of the Jerome Robbins Foundation, which Lasky served first as a trustee before becoming President. "She was really a major force to Jerry," says Foundation Director Allen Greenberg. "She was very instrumental in paving the way for modern dance and theatre classics. . . Her counsel and guidance were essential to guilds and studios." After so many years of dedicated service to the arts community, he says, "we thought it was appropriate to give an award to exemplify her values‹and outstanding service‹of championing the arts of theatre and dance."
The decision to present the inaugural Lasky Award to City Center was not a difficult one. Lasky was a great fan of City Center's work, and particularly enjoyed their annual Fall for Dance program, which she felt was vital for creating new dance enthusiasts. The program's $10 tickets, Greenberg says, offer "an opportunity for a new audience to attend. And obviously, [it helps] to get the arts to those who may not be able to see them‹or give them a taste." Another factor in the decision, Greenberg continues, was Lasky's admiration for City Center's president, Arlene Shuler. Lasky was a champion of the arts, Greenberg says, and City Center and Arlene Shuler's work exemplify her values. Appropriately, City Center's first show in its popular Encores! series this November will be On the Town, the musical that shot Jerome Robbins to stardom in 1944.
Jerome Robbins created his Foundation in 1958 in honor of his mother, and used its limited resources to sponsor causes and artists he felt worthy. "He initially established it for arts and dance," says Foundation Director Daniel Stern. But when the arts community was devastated by AIDS in the early '80s, he began dedicating his money to HIV/AIDS causes. Today, the Foundation continues his philanthropic work for both social and artistic improvement, putting the residuals his estate earns to use for the causes he espoused. "We try to really focus on areas we felt were important to Jerry," Stern says. "We continue to focus primarily on the social side when it comes to HIV/AIDS." But for the Foundation's original mission, "we focus on the arts with [an emphasis] on dance."
Not long before he died, Robbins wrote a note to the trustees of his Foundation: "I would like there to be established a prize to some really greatly outstanding person or art institution. The prizes should lean toward the arts of dance and its associative collaborators but not necessarily be defined by that surround." Five years after Robbins' death, the Foundation created the Jerome Robbins Award to honor this request. When the Lasky Award is presented to City Center on September 26, the third presentation of the Robbins Award will be to both the San Francisco Ballet and Twyla Tharp. Both San Francisco and Tharp were linked to Robbins' work‹the celebration, held on the penultimate night of Fall for Dance, will also feature performances of Robbins' work from San Francisco Ballet, and performances of Tharp's work.
For New York City Center, Greenberg says, the Floria V. Lasky Award not only recognizes what they have achieved, but what they can continue to accomplish. "We want them to continue to do good work," he says emphatically. "Of course, I'm happy that they're doing Robbins' ballets... (and, of course, I'm very pleased that they're bringing back On the Town)... But quite truthfully, even though I'm quite pleased that they're doing that, we really want them to continue doing the general good work they've been doing, bringing back other plays, other musicals." Specifically, Greenberg praises City Center's dedication to promoting the work of younger choreographers, and mentions Christopher Wheeldon as an example of a choreographer who has done some beautiful ballets and whose work is gracing City Center's stage. (Wheeldon's own dance company, Morphoses, will appear at City Center in early October.) That kind of dedication is most certainly in the spirit of Jerome Robbins, and of his Foundation.