Monday, December 13, 2010

The X-Factor:

His Choreographic Style:

“Though physically small and asthmatic, Fosse was a dance prodigy; …With pigeon toes and slouching posture, Fosse hardly fit the dance ideal so he focused more on rhythm and style to make up for what he lacked physically.”

Bob Fosse used his imperfections to create his own technique that focused around the imperfections of a dancer’s body to implicate new moves and poses. It focused the most on the hips, belly, shoulders, and isolated areas of the body rather than the legs and feet. Along with his movement style came a specific style of dress as well. His trademark dance sported a bowler hat, black pants, and vest and sleek. This style of dress can also be explained since his idol and influence was Astaire and he also used props like hats, chairs, and canes.

"I was getting pretty bald for a hoofer and felt a hat would hide it. Canes became important to me when my hands started trembling and seemed like a good way to distract the audience." --from The Boston Globe, September 6, 1998.

In addition to the isolated body parts and attire of his dances, his choreography was recognized as a developed jazz dance style that had a stylized, “cynical sexuality.” Distinctions of  his styles included movements such as turned-in knees, sideways shuffling, and rolled shoulders.

Even though Bob Fosse created a stylized dance, you must also have technique to be able to attain his combinations. Only a talented and versatile dancer can truly master the Fosse style. A fosse dancer must have a strong tecnique in ballet, tap (influenced in his movement because he started out learning this as a child), and jazz. As well as dancing, a person must also be able to sing and act. While dancing a Fosse performance, dancers would be required to sing and be able to express themselves with their bodies and stage presence as any actor could using character and dialogue. 

Although Fosse's movements are based around his own body, some may consider his movement style to be sultry and inappropriate. For example, a scholarly source explains a scene. "Certainly the cabaret audience in the film is positioned as being morally guilty by placing them in a mirror relationship to the grotesque performers on stage." Normally dance movements are not characterized as grotesque or adjectives like this. One must look at his choreography as a whole and be open minded as to its pure meaning and difficult technique. 

Importance to Me:

Bob Fosse matters to me because I consider him to be a legend. Ever since my mom gave me the Fosse cd when I was a little girl I idolized his dancers and pieces that he put together. His movements are so full and warming, there is no half way dancing his technique. In order to master his choreography you have to invest all your heart and strength. Even when his movement is so rare and different, there are few cynical people that will criticize his work. This quote is another reason I find him so interesting.

“Though he was physically "wrong" as a dancer, Bob Fosse never let those limitations impede his artistic ambition. Molding his own imperfections into a distinct, sinuous style, Fosse left his mark on Broadway and brought an innovative dimension of sophistication and sensual energy to the movie musical.”

I think as a person he over came challenges with his body and pushed forward to accomplish his own ambitions no matter what was standing in his way. There are many dancers in today’s day and age that would simply give up if someone turned then away for having the wrong body type. Another reason I enjoy Fosse is because I think his movement is more performance based than modern types of dance. This is the type of dancer I would like to be. His movements are sensual and take risks that some would call risqué. I think his type of dancing indulges a way of moving that many people would like to practice but either see it as morally wrong to do on stage or never have the chance because it is hard to get work doing Bob Fosse’s technique. The only places I find Fosse’s pieces are in movies, which leads me to the last reason I like him so much. He has influenced the dance world so much that his technique and shows are still being remade into updated and replicated versions of his past. His work is so powerful that people still want to watch it. A critic speaks about Fosse and says:

That was what Fosse, at his best, continued to deliver throughout the 30-some succeeding years of his career: a sassy, confrontational and insistently sexual style that both baited and winked at his audiences. Even at his most ironic, the man behind ''Sweet Charity,'' ''Chicago'' and the film of ''Cabaret'' infused his work with impudent glee, a show-off's satisfaction in performing well.”

Historical Time Period of Fosse

During the time of Bob Fosse the country was at war for a large portion of his life. Fosse also fought for our country during World War 2. He was alive to see Pearl Harbor and experienced first hand all the emotions that the country went through during this time. Other highly thought of historical events that happened during his time contain Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, Alaska and Hawaii become states, President Kennedy assassinated, and fighting for gay rights movements. There were highly important laws and rights that were being fought for which could all be expressed through art.

Instead of Fosse’s choreography and work being based on different aspects of events going on in the world, his choreography is based on the theme of his shows. For example, he choreographed for The Pajama Game, which was about labor troubles in a pajama factory. The workers demanded a raise. Strikes in factories and demands for raises from labor workers were very common. Fosse was able to take music and put his slinky movements into what the theme of the musical or song was. Another example of Fosse adapting to what the theme of the story was is Chicago. This story is about a women and her cellmates that have killed men and are waiting for a trial to either be set free or get the death penalty. Some would even simply say this movie is based around the idea of the death penalty, which has major controversy. Instead of making a dance routine reflecting how he feels, Fosse used the musical to portray a story and added his movements for entertainment. 

The Making of Bob Fosse:

Bob Fosse was born on June 23, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. His father came from a Norweigian background and his mother was Irish. He was the youngest of six kids. When he was young he took classes and studied wide ranges of dance such as ballet, tap, and acrobatic dance. He started his formal training from local teachers as well as the Frederick Weaver Ballet School. All of his training led him to begin performing on stage at an early age and he was seen performing in Burlesque and Vaudeville shows by the time he was thirteen.  He met up with a young dancer named Charles Grass and they began collaborating with each other as The Riff Brothers, they toured together around the Chicago areas. On top of his dancing studies, he also took acting classes in New York City at the American Theatre wing. After graduating from high school, Fosse joined the Navy; he furthered his art while serving his country by being in an entertainment unit. Eventually, Fosse was hired to perform in Tough Situation and this toured around military and naval bases in the Pacific.  After World War 2, he continued with acting classes as well as working as a performer. He appeared on Broadway and in film. Unfortunately, Bob Fosse never experienced great success in the movies, which influenced him to return to his roots. He began choreographing and his breakthrough moment came in 1954 when he was given the opportunity to work on The Pajama Game. His career took off from there with a lot of success and years of choreographing and performing. By his last piece, Fosse had earned eight Tony Awards for his work in musicals. Sadly, his busy work schedule, as well as smoking, drinking, and drugs, finally caught up with him and caused heart problems in the 1970s. Even after cutting back from the causes of some of his bad health problems, Bob Fosse died from a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 60.

Fosse moved to New York in hopes of becoming the next Fred Astaire. His performances and dance partnership with his first wife led him to be discovered and to perform in several television appearances and then hired for screen appearances on Give a Girl a Break and Kiss Me Kate. The sequence he performed and choreographed with Carol Haney led him to be discovered by Broadway producers. Unfortunately, Fosse’s acting career on set was very short; supposedly because of his premature balding because that limited the roles he could take. However, this allowed him to move from Hollywood to theatre. In 1954 he choreographed his first musical, The Pajama Game, which was followed by George Abbott’s Damn Yankees in 1955. Fosse also choreographed the film version of Damn Yankees as well as making appearances in the film.  In 1957 Fosse choreographed The New Girl in Town. In 1960 Fosse took his first job as being choreographer and director with the musical Redheaded. Next came Sweet Charity with Fosse costarring/choreographing/and directing and Chicago followed this. In 1973 Pippin was produced. Fosse performed a memorable song and dance routine in Stanley Donen’s 1974 film version of The Little Prince and in 1977 he played a small role in the romantic comedy Thieves. In 1975 Chicago made its debut. In 1979 he created a semi-autobioraphical film All That Jazz, in this piece, the main character dies from heart problems.

The Love Life of Fosse
Fosse’s first wife was Mary Ann Niles and they were wed in 1949. She was his dance partner in Call Me Mister. They were frequent performers on Your Hit Parade during the 1950-1951 season. Their performers on this show led them to be discovered and scheduled to appear on the Colgate Comedy Hour. His love for Niles did not last and he soon met his second wife to be.  He married Joan McCracken, a dancer, in 1952. However, this marriage also did not last. He met his third wife, Gwen Verdon, while he was working on Damn Yankees and married her in 1960. He was so mesmerized by her that he starred her in his next two productions and created the lead role in Sweet Charity especially for her.