Sunday, September 24, 2000

30 years of 'Fosse'

Revue celebrates late dancer's life, style, and all that jazz

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Opening side-by-side this week in the Aronoff Center for the Arts are Broadway hit Fosse in Procter & Gamble Hall and off-Broadway hit Forbidden Broadway in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater.

        Fosse celebrates the slouching bodies, the pelvic thrusts and the ever-expressive hands of choreographer Bob's body of works. Forbidden Broadway spoofs them, along with a lengthy list of past and present musical hits.

        Longtime Fosse dancer Anne Reinking talks about how the man made art. Producer John Freedson tells about the making of Forbidden Broadway.


        The number is “Bye, Bye Blackbird.” The dancers look very sexy, doing a rhythmic up-and-down move from the hips.

        But what looks like a warm-up bump-and-grind to the audience feels machinelike to the dancers, with their hands turning a handle that operates their hips.

[photo] A scene from Fosse, playing this week at the Aronoff Center.
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        Any fan of Broadway musicals recognizes the Bob Fosse signature cupped hand move from shows like Chicago and films like All That Jazz. The moves may look faintly come-hither, yet Fosse had his dancers visualize holding runny eggs. You know those smart hand snaps? The dancers' mental image is getting rid of a wet tissue.

        It's pretty prosaic imagery for a guy who spent the second half of his career making hookers, pimps and murderers dance center stage in a series of hard-edged musicals. But he began his climb to Broadway legend status choreographing lighter fare such as The Pajama Game and Bells Are Ringing.

        All of Bob Fosse, the innocence and loss of innocence, is celebrated in Fosse. The revue, which presents 30 years of career highlights, opens the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series season Tuesday at the Aronoff Center.

        Dancing Fosse choreography is hard, says his longtime muse Ann Reinking, who co-directed and co-choreographed the show.

    What: Fosse
    When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday Sept. 26-Oct. 8
    Where: Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall
    Tickets: $35-$62. 241-7469. Half-price student rush tickets available at the box office two hours prior to curtain for all performances.

        “It looks simple, it's not,” she laughs by phone from New York. The knees turn in, weight rides on a hip, the back arches, elbows are positioned more like a boxer's than a dancer's. “It takes so much concentration.”

Dance signature


        The short version of the Bob Fosse bio is that he was born into a star-struck family in Chicago in 1927. By his early teens he was dancing in low-end burlesque houses, where he could closely observe the raunch that became part of his dance signature.

        Ever a dancing man, post-WWII he found his way to Broadway and debuted in Call Me Mister in 1947. Less than 10 years later he was choreographing on Broadway where he met his wife Gwen Verdon. They consolidated their star status with Sweet Charity.

        His autobiographical fantasy All That Jazz touched on his womanizing, his workaholism, the stormy marriage, his addictions. He died of heart failure in 1987. He was 60.

        His choreographic style is considered to be an outgrowth of his life experiences, his interests and “in part came from his own restrictions,” Ms. Reinking says.

        Those little, pure Fosse moves say a lot, whether it's a shrug of the shoulders or holding a derby with fingers in proper teacup form.

        Mr. Fosse didn't like his balding head, hence the hats. He was slightly round-shouldered (note the shrugs) and pigeon-toed (watch for the turned-in feet).

        There was almost always tension in his choreography. Ms. Reinking points to “Hey, Big Spender” from Sweet Charity in which the ladies of the evening are lined up at a bar. From the chest up, the pose references the posture of classical ballet, but beneath the bar the legs are akimbo. “It's called the Broken Doll,” she says. “It's beauty but it's busted.”

        She quickly adds that's just one side of Fosse. “The same man who choreographed Cabaret also did “Pardon Me, Miss, Have You Ever Been Kissed by a Real Live Girl.”

        Somehow it all came together in a way that was unmatched. “You can't readily explain brilliance,” Ms. Reinking says. “It's innate. I used to stare at the top of his head and say, "Where does it come from?' ”

The soul of the man


        Fosse began with Gwen Verdon, who started a dance lab about five years ago. Dance is the most difficult art form to re-create but “Gwen has a memory you can't believe,” Ms. Reinking says. “She can even tell you what light cues go with a step, and she'll be right. I wrote it all down.”

        The lab developed 45 numbers. Next came a workshop, then a producer (Garth Drabinsky). Ms. Verdon recommended Ms. Reinking for the next big part of the job and she came on board. Ms. Reinking was to decide what stayed in and what was dropped, not an easy task because “I like it all. It's the truth.” She also created movement bridges between the numbers.

        “He was a good storyteller — so many of the dances have a beginning, middle and end,” Ms. Reinking says. “He somehow was so interested in the human spirit and the human condition. He'd take large issues and address them through personal stories. That resonates with people.”

        She and Ms. Verdon are playing with the idea of Fosse II. “There was a lot we had to leave out,” she points out, including famous numbers like the Coffee Break ballet from How to Succeed... and “I've Got Your Number” from Little Me.

        “I think we got the soul of the man, and the work. I thought doing it would haunt me, but it was like having Bob back.”

- 30 years of 'Fosse'
Give their remarks to 'Broadway'

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