Bob Fosse

WHO IS BOB FOSSE?

Born on the 23rd of June, 1927 in Chicago and died at the age of 60 on the 23rd of September, 1987 in Washington D.C, Bob Fosse was an icon. He forever changed the worlds view on dance in shows and the film industry in the late 20th century. Bob Fosse was a choreographer, dancer and director best known for Tony Award-winning musicals including Chicago and Cabaret.

Fosse was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

His style

Fosse's work isn't purely burlesque. It is its own unique amalgamation that results in cool jazz movements. Fosse is best known for this signature jazz style, which features sexually suggestive forward hip-thrusts, the vaudeville humor of hunched shoulders and turned-in feet and the amazing mime-like articulation of hands. This is a very physically demanding style, and the physical skills required, include control, strength, coordination and more. Fosse dancers must be able to isolate everything, right down to their eyeballs, elbows and fingers. Fosse's dances were typical to be many group numbers. When a Fosse dancer learns to focus their energy in stillness, they can grab the audience with a simple flutter of their fingers. His dances were sexual, physically demanding of even the most highly trained dancers.

“It should look like you’re not working at all—but you’ll come off stage sweating,”

How his style was influenced

Fosse was a small boy who suffered from nagging health problems. He was a ballerina as a young boy, and had turned in feet, hunched shoulders and bad posture, so he nevertheless was so dedicated. By the time he reached high school, he was already dancing professionally in area nightclubs as part of their sleazy vaudeville and burlesque shows. The sexually free atmosphere of these clubs and the strippers with whom Fosse was in constant contact made a strong impression on him. Fascinated with vaudeville’s dark humor and teasing sexual tones, he would later develop these themes in his adult work.

"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." --Bob Fosse, September 6, 1977.

Costumes and props

The costumes that Fosse’s dancers wore are so unique and easily recognised as Fosse's. Although the theme of the dance is raunchy and burlesque, some costumes didn’t show much flesh at all as they would wear fishnet stockings or tights or black pants to cover their arms and legs. As well as this they wore black clothing, suits, body suits etc. To coincide they also had bowler hats and white gloves because Foose starting going bald at a young age and didn't like the look of his hands. Another key to Fosse's style is very extreme, heavy makeup.

The props used in Cabaret is to set the stage, to be used in the dance and contribute to the outfit like the cane. Fosse used simple props so that the audience would concentrate more on the movements of the dancers than anything else. This is one of the props used in Cabaret. It is a black wooden chair, which would create levels as they stand on the chair adding interest to the dance so that its not on the same level throughout the dance. You can see in this image the dancer dances with the chair creating shapes and making the dance more entertaining.

The above video is Bob Fosse's "The rich Man's Frug" (Sweet Charity) which is iconic, and demonstrates all of his iconic dance moves, costumes and props.

Cell block tango

In the first act of 'Chicago', a well known musical, the Cell Block Tango is used to justify the female prisoners crimes of killing their husbands. Through this heated dance, there is many hunched shoulders and multiple movements of the accents of the music. Also a standout I'd how simple majority of the movements are yet how ironic they are to the music. All of the characters are dressed in black, with fishnets stocking as well as heavy makeup which follows Fosse's iconic style.

Similarities and differences

Hip hop was originated from the culture of African Americans in the late 1960's and contains 4 distinct elements that is the basis of the style. This style was created by multiple people whereas Bob Fosse created his own. Hip hop has more of an upbeat vibe and tends to have a higher level of movement that consists of more aerobic moved, as opposed to Fosse's simple and effective style. Both of these styles require a high level of physicals skills, but mainly stamina and coordination. Also the use of expressing the story is extremely important in both these dances and the sharpness of all gestures made can define whether it is a success or not. Such as the slow and dignified body in Fosse's style and even the pop and lock in hip hop.

Timeline

23rd Jun 1927. Robert Louis ‘Bob’ Fosse was born to Sara Alice Fosse and Cyril K. Fosse in Chicago, Illinois. He was the second youngest of the six children born to the couple.

1946 Fosse made his vaudeville debut with his wife in ‘Call Me Mister’, which earned him the attention of biggies like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. He then became a regular performer with his wife in the ‘Youth Hit Parade’ in the 1950s.

1949 He married Mary Ann Niles in 1949, but divorced her two years later.

1952 He then married Joan McCracken in 1952 and the marriage lasted for a span of seven years.

1953 He signed a contract with MGM in 1953 and he appeared in ‘Give A Girl A Break’, ‘The Affairs of Dobie Gills’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’ all of which appeared the same year. His performances earned him the attention of numerous Broadway producers.

1954 He choreographed his first musical, ‘The Pajama Game’ in 1954 followed by ‘Damn Yankees’ the next year.

1957 In 1957, he choreographed, ‘New Girl in Town’, followed by the film adaptation of ‘Pajama Game’, starring Doris Day. Three years later, he was the director and choreographer for a musical called, ‘Readhead’ for the first time.

1960 He married Gwen Verdon, a popular actress and his muse, in 1960 and the couple had a daughter, Nicole Providence Fosse, who also went on to become an actress and a dancer.

1961 In 1961, he also choreographed the musical hit, ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’ and was the director/choreographer for ‘The Conquering Hero’.

1966 In 1966, he choreographed and directed a musical called ‘Sweet Charity’, which also starred his wife and muse, Gwen Verdon. Three years later, he directed his first feature film adaptation of ‘Sweet Charity’.

1972 In 1972, he directed one of his most popular Broadway musical productions, ‘Pippin’, for which he earned a number of Tony Award nominations. The same year, he produced his first concert film, ‘Liza with a Z’.

1972 In 1972, he directed one of his most iconic works, ‘Cabaret’, a musical film. The movie is regarded as his magnum opus because it still holds the record for most number of ‘Academy Award’ wins in a sole year without winning the uppermost honor of the ‘Best Picture’. Bob Fosse won an Academy Award for direction for his movie and the film went on to collect a massive $42,765,000 at the box-office.

1973 In 1973, he won two Tony Awards for ‘Best Direction of a Musical’ and ‘Best Choreography’ for ‘Pippin’.

1973 He won an Emmy Award for ‘Liza with a Z’ for the category of ‘Outstanding Achievement in Choreography’, in 1973.

1973 In 1973, he won an Academy Award for the film ‘Cabaret’ for the category of ‘Best Director’.

1975 In 1975, he directed one of his most memorable musicals based on a eponymous play titled, ‘Chicago’. Two years later, he was seen in the rom-com, ‘Thieves’.

1979 In 1979, he won a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie, ‘All That Jazz’.

1980 In 1980, he directed the movie ‘Star 80’, which was a biopic on the life of ‘Playboy Playmate’, Dorothy Stratten. The film, although controversial, went on to be nominated for several distinguished awards.

1986 In 1986, he choreographed, wrote and directed ‘Big Deal’, which earned five Tony Award nominations and closed only after 69 performances. This was also his last work before his death.

23rd Sep 1987 He passed away due to a heart attack at the George Washington University Hospital. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean as per his request.

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