“Gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down……and all that jazz”.
Those words are ringing in my ears and probably will be for a few weeks!
Needless to say it was fabulous and fun and a little nerve-wracking.
Although I knew a little about Bob Fosse, the great choreographer and director of such shows as Chicago, Cabaret and All that Jazz, I certainly didn’t appreciate the work that went into creating such a precise manner of dancing.
Can I just say, I don’t think my thighs will be the same – keeping in that low plie position, with one leg slightly higher, is an absolute killer.
As you probably know, Fosse developed a type of jazz dance which was incredibly distinctive, – it was stylized with a kind of haughty sexiness.
Notable moves included the use of turned-in knees, sideways shuffling, rolled shoulders, and of course the obligatory jazz hands.
Fred Astaire was his inspiration and like him, used props such as bowler hats, canes and chairs.
Fosse used these to great effect in Cabaret with Liza Minelli:
Liza said, of her character, at the time:
“When I told Daddy (Vincente Minelli) I was doing Cabaret, he asked, “What are you going to look like?” I got a blank expression on my face and said “I don’t know. Sally looks like a kook, but a kook gets boring unless she’s specific. What should I look like? Daddy told me I had to look special, but also like me.
Three days later, I walked into Daddy’s room and on his bed were books and pictures. I had thought there was only that incredible sophisticated Dietrich look in the thirties , but then Daddy and I discussed Louise Brooks (the famous twenties actress who wore her hair like a pixie) and who, like Sally Bowles, was a curious enigma. He said “Yes, she will give you the effect you want”.
Fosse went on to produce the fantasy autobiographical film All That Jazz. The film was loosely based on a manic period where Fosse was editing his film, Lenny, whilst staging the broadway musical Chicago.
Again the black stylized look took over. (Is that really Roy Scheider of Jaw’s fame?)
Only this time he also wanted the dancer’s to wear leotards echoing the veins in the body.
Albert Wolsky, the costume designer said of Fosse:
” Fosse was a mystery and was intense. Not a lot of laughs on the set. But there was something about the material that told me what to do, and he was never that specific unless he had an image of something.
A director doesn’t have to tell me blue, pink, green dress. It’s the other things – I need to know why a director likes the material, what it means to him.”
Wolsky said of the costumes:
“Fosse decided that he wanted to see the veins on the dancers. I quickly had the veins painted on to the leotards, only to see the paint start bleeding once the dancer began to perspire. To solve the problem I decided to have all the veins appliqued on to the fabric. That was a much better way of solving it and it gave depth and texture to the effect. Learning from one’s mistake is part of moviemaking.”
When Fosse died Ann Reinking ( pictured above) carried on the Fosse style – choreographing Chicago as recently as last November.
Last but not least, Fosse will be remembered particularly by those not old enough to experience the original, through Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video. Beyonce watched Fosse’s choreography for the 1969 Mexican Breakfast and turned it into her own.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Beyonce admitted:
” I saw a video [Mexican Breakfast] on YouTube. [The dancers] had a plain background and it was shot on the crane; it was 360 degrees, they could move around. And I said, ‘This is genius.’ We kept a lot of the Fosse choreography and added the down-south thing — it’s called J-Setting, where one person does something and the next person follows. So it was a strange mixture … It’s like the most urban choreography, mixed with Fosse — very modern and very vintage.”
Have a look at the two and see quite how closely they kept to Fosse’s choreography.
(Just a warning, the subtitles on the first video may be a little offensive to some – I couldn’t find a video that wasn’t blurred or without little details, shall we say! But I must admit it is rather funny).
Plagerism some might say – personally if it ain’t broke why fix it?
Beyonce cleverly realised the magic, admitted her source and added her own little bit of sass.
Quite brilliant I would say!
(BTW I have updated the gallery of illustrations – so there are a few more to peruse)
All images and quotes (unless specified) taken from Dressed, A Century of of Hollywood Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman Landis