The following press release was written by Margaret Carson of The Carson Office.
May 16, 1974 - Premiere
It was thirty years ago that Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins first talked about creating a ballet based on "The Dybbuk", a play by S. Ansky. The two men had just completed their first collaboration, "Fancy Free", which had its premiere April 18, 1944. Though the idea was never abandoned, other projects seemed to intervene. (One was West Side Story, 1957.) Some four or five years ago, Bernstein and Robbins discussed the work once again, possibly for 1973, to commemorate Israel's 25th year. Other commitments still interfered. But two years ago work began in earnest and has progressed to the point of a schedule premiere on May 16th.
The legend of the dybbuk has fascinated musicians, writers, dancers, ever since 1916 when S. Ansky's play "The Dybbuk" was first published. S. Ansky - or S. An-Sky - the pseudonym of Solomon Zainwill Rapaport, author and folklorist (1963-1920) - was born in Chashnik, White Russia. He worked as a blacksmith, bookbinder, factory hand, and teacher. From 1911 to 1914 he traveled through the villages of several countries as head of the Jewish ethnographic expedition collecting material on folk legends, hasidic tales and stories about Jewish poverty.
It was during these trips that Ansky learned about the dybbuk. In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is a wandering soul which enters into a living person and talks through his mouth, presenting a separate and alien personality. The story of Ansky's play is about two young lovers secretly pledged to each other before birth by the oath of their fathers. The pledge is broken by the girl's father, who betroths her to another. The boy, in despair, dabbles in black arts, to his misfortune, successfully, and becomes a dybbuk which enters the body of his beloved.
Ansky's play, which has become an international classic, was first produced in Yiddish by the Vilna troupe in 1920 and then, in the Hebrew translation of Bialik, by the Habimah company in Moscow, Tel Aviv, and New York. Productions followed in German, English, Polish, Ukranian, Swedish, Bulgarian and French.
The play has inspired various artistic and musical treatments of the legend. Among them was an unusual adaptation by French novelist Romain Gary, "La Danse de Gengis Cohn" in 1967, a bitter satire that tells how the spirit of a Jewish entertainer haunts the ex-Nazi who murdered him in World War II. An Italian opera "Il Dibuk" with music by Lodovico Rocca and Libretto by Renato Simoni, had its premiere at La Scala, Milan in 1934. And in the United States, another opera also titled "The Dybbuk" was written by two brothers from Oregon, Alex and David Tamkin, and produced by the New York City Opera in 1951. There was a ballet by Max Ettinger in 1947 and another opera in 1962 by Michael Whyte. Two films were made, the first a Yiddish one in Poland in 1938 and then a Hebrew version in Israel in 1968.
Still another offspring of Ansky's work was Paddy Chayefsky's play "The Tenth Man" which opened in 1959 and had 623 performances at the Booth Theater.