Henning Rübsam at The Hudson Review:
At the tender age of 25, Robbins made his first splash as a choreographer with a story ballet about three sailors on shore leave. The thirst for beer, adventure, and women brings out the primal urges of youth. Aptly titled Fancy Free, it must have been swell when it premiered in 1944 at Ballet Theatre. In fact, it was such a success that collaborators Leonard Bernstein and Robbins embarked on a Broadway career, reworking and expanding the ballet into the smash hit On the Town. Today one has to look at Fancy Free as a period piece or relish in political incorrectness, for it reeks of sexism and portrays sexual assault as entertainment. I find myself squirming in my seat at times, especially when the trio grab a young lady’s purse and toss it between them, leaving her to run from one to the next trying to snatch it back. The worst part of course is that sometime after she does manage to have her handbag returned, she happily joins the handsome sailors in the bar. Is their youth reason enough to excuse the sailors’ behavior? (I must confess that having seen the ballet recently with more mature casts is even harder to watch.) Does one’s inner conflict, fueled by recent discussions, make the piece more relevant? Has that struggle always existed for the viewer or was the piece easier to like when Robbins choreographed it?