Bob at these clubs where he was first

Bob Fosse, who was born in Chicago in 1927, was one the
biggest names in jazz dance and choreography and still is a huge influencer to
many within the industry and around world. He started his very successful
career at a relatively young age as by the age of 13 he had a dance partner and
was bringing in money as a professional dance act and by 15 he had his first
choreographic experience while working at burlesque houses. During this time he
also regularly performed at these venues, as it was at these clubs where he was
first exposed to themes of Vaudeville and burlesque. Once completed and
graduated from high school, Fosse enrolled into the U.S. Navy in 1945 at the
tail end of World War II. After he had completed his military involvement in
1947 he moved to New York to try pursue and fulfil his dance career, while
studying acting at the American Theatre Wing. After gaining roles in Broadway
shows as part of the chorus and making his debut on television in musicals such
as ‘Kiss Me Kate’, he started to gain attention from major Jazz influencers
such as Jerome Robbins and George Abbott. This led to Fosse’s first choreographic
project in 1954 on the musical ‘The Pajama Game’, which was directed by George
Abbott. This was the start of Fosse’s huge choreographic success, as this
resulted in his first Tony Award for ‘Best Choreography’. He then collaborated
with Abbott again to choreograph ‘Damn Yankees’, which was also a great success
as it gained another Tony Award for Fosse. He then went on to create world
famous stage musicals and films, such as ‘Sweet Charity’ and ‘Cabaret’, which
were often reflective of the yearning of sexual freedom in the USA at that
time, or own his own life experiences.

Fosse was also known for mixing a variety of different
styles of dance together, such as; tap, ballet, gypsy, ballroom and cancan.
This was as he took inspiration from various dancers, choreographers and
artists, many of whom he idolised and became heavily influenced by their work.
One of his main influencers was Jack Cole, who was world famous for being the
one to start training jazz dancers for the Hollywood movie business, to which
caused him to later be known as the “Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance”. Fosse
was also inspired by Cole as he was known to create his own style by incorporating
other genres of dance to build and expand his own range of technique, which had
a direct impact, not only on his own unique stylistic quality, but also how
Fosse would later end up working and creating his own movement quality. Fosse
also derived from his own personal experiences and lifestyles as he was known
to have a tendency to fall into heavily drinking, smoking, taking drugs and
being a ‘womaniser’. These experiences then later influenced him when writing,
directing and choreographing ‘All That Jazz’.

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Fosse also developed his unique and individual style from
trying to stray away from traditional ballet technique and poise and create new
aesthetic lines of movement. Some of these qualities include; turned in knees
and feet, abstract head movements, contraction rolling of the shoulders, and
finger snapping. These movements were often subtle but very refined, to the
point where a single finger movement would’ve been rehearsed for hours. Even
though these movements may not have been overly complex they were still
intricate and characterised by the sensual stylisation of the dancers. Another
huge inspiration to Fosse, which majorly impacted his overall tone and
characterisation of his choreography, was his experiences in the nightclubs and
burlesque houses. The atmosphere of these clubs and shows were often dark and
heavily sexual, to which Fosse then carried on to his later choreography. This was
often portrayed by the dancers wearing fishnet stockings, gloves, and bowler hats
which were often titled to the side, to which it was many thought was to show
the women dancers as sensual and mysterious, however it is actually known that
it was a choreographic and personal choice by Fosse as he often wore hats due
to early balding in his teens, and had a dislike for his hands so chose to
cover them with gloves.

An iconic piece of choreography from Fosse comes from the
stage production and film ‘Sweet Charity’ which is ‘The Rich Mans Frug’. This
famous dance is split into three distinguishing sections: ‘The Aloof’, ‘The
Heavyweight’, and ‘The Big Finish’, which is all a narrative to portray the
rich lifestyle. The first part of this segment of dance is ‘The Aloof’. This,
as the word ‘aloof’ in the title suggests, is meant to depict rich people as
sobbing and cold, as the dancers keep a stern and cold facial expression, as if
because they are rich and ‘above everyone else’ that they are incapable of
feeling emotion. This is also shown through the posture of the dancers as they
walk with their head up and a snobby presence. Along with this, there is use of
isolation of each body part, but in particular the wrists and arms, to which
was often a trademark of Fosse’s choreography. The second of the three dances
is ‘The Heavyweight’, which out of the three has the most comical undertones to
it. This comically represents the differences and competitiveness between men
and women, especially within a rich lifestyle. This part also has various body
isolations but in addition to the arm and hand isolations there were also
prominent corresponding pelvic isolations, along with very angular positions
and shapes. The final section is called ‘The Big Finish’, which is clearly the
grandest and most telling piece of the three. This is to show the lavish and
party aspect of the rich lifestyle, which lies under their moody and arrogant
disguise. However, this then dies down and they return to their regular lives
and behaviours, much like how they were at the beginning of the dance.

Another hugely infamous piece of Bob Fosse choreography is ‘All
That Jazz’ from the musical ‘Chicago’. This piece is very refined and slinky,
which clearly portrays the tone of women empowerment and sensuality. The
beginning of the piece is quite gestural and musical, however it is prevalent
that every movement has been heavily rehearsed and thought out, to which Fosse often
heavily focused on. The movement, although subtle, is very bold and creates
clean lines, which reinforces the powerful image it portrays. The stylistic
quality of hand movements and gestures, head rolls and breath depicts the
slink, sensual and mysterious tone, which is also reiterated by the costumes as
they consist of fishnet stockings, mesh tops, and tight fitting attire. The
overall piece uses musicality, costuming, and aesthetic motifs to create a
strong atmosphere, which Fosse often used in his choreography to signify his unique
style.

Bob Fosse, although passed away in the late 1980’s, remains
one of the most influential figures in the dance world today, with his own
style and quality of movement still being used in modern day choreography and
shows. For example, the piece ‘Big Spender’ from ‘Sweet Charity’ has been
replicated and recreated numerous times in varying instances. Also ‘Chicago’ is
still one of the leading musicals, with the rendition of ‘All That Jazz’
remaining extremely close to the original choreography and becoming of the most
iconic dances from a musical. Fosse’s influence can also be spotted in modern
day pop music and videos, such as Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, Maddona’s ‘Vogue’,
and many of Michael Jackson’s music and dance videos. His style has also laid
the foundation for many other choreographers to derive from as his yearn to
stray away from the norm and make a statement will forever carry his lasting legacy.

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