Dramaturgs, Rebecca Curran and Elaine Smith, sat down with Chicago choreographer Kate Gelabert to discuss Bob Fosse’s iconic dance style, and its significance within the production.
The original production of Chicago was directed, choreographed, and written by Bob Fosse. What elements and influences define his personal style?
As a teen, Fosse was already dancing professionally in Chicago nightclubs, where he was first exposed to Vaudeville and burlesque. Those – plus his compensations for what he considered his flaws in his dance technique – would be the major influences in his dancing and choreography for most of his career. Chicago was the perfect vehicle for him to showcase his style, the burlesque and vaudeville vocabulary of movement, and the popular dances of the 20’s. Most of the principal characters in this show are based on real vaudeville performers. They and other popular entertainers of the period can be seen in old video clips, which are very helpful in staging the numbers in this show.
How did this distinct style influence your work on this production?
Fosse’s style is unique and in certain numbers, rather iconic. I chose to use much of his original movement ideas, as well as incorporate my own to give the show the Fosse style/look without just recreating all the original. Having never worked with the man, nor danced in a Fosse show, my knowledge is academic; research based on old films, documentaries, master classes, and alumnus who have danced in the Broadway production or national tours to give master classes to my students. It is important for our students to be exposed to this style of dance because his shows are still in demand and being produced professionally.
Broadway at FSU: Actress, dancer, and choreographer Ann Reinking, who choreographed the Broadway revival of Chicago, visited FSU as a Hoffman Eminent Scholar in 1994. Can you tell us about that experience?
Reinking was a ballet dancer before becoming a Broadway phenomenon, and her knowledge of dance and dance techniques enabled her to not only star as a Fosse dancer, but to also work in the shows of other great American choreographers such as Michael Bennet (A Chorus Line) and Pat Birch (Over Here!). I had the wonderful opportunity to work with her when she came to FSU for six weeks to teach my workshop class which culminated in a review featuring the Music Theatre students. She was a fabulous teacher and the Fosse style was so clear on her body . . . it was like it inhabited her very being.