Innovative and award-winning choreographer Bob Fosse left an indelible mark on the world of dance.
Born in 1927 to a performing family, Bob Fosse hit the vaudeville stage at a young age. He received formal training from local teachers and the Frederick Weaver Ballet School. By the time he was 13, he was using this training as part of the performing duo The Riff Brothers. After graduating from high school, he entered the Navy, furthering his craft while serving his country in an entertainment unit.
After World War II, Fosse pursued acting classes and continued working as a performer, appearing on Broadway and in film. However, when he never experienced great success in the movies, he returned to his roots. His breakthrough moment as a choreographer came in 1954, when he was given a chance to work on The Pajama Game.
Fosse met his future third wife, Gwen Verdon, on the set of Damn Yankees, his next musical. She was cast as the famous Lola in "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" and he was so impressed by her style that he cast her in two of his next productions. They married in 1960, and he created the lead role in Sweet Charity especially for her.
By the end of his career, Choreographer Bob Fosse had earned eight Tony Awards for his work in musicals. However, his non-stop work schedule and smoking, drinking and drugs eventually caught up with him in the form of heart trouble in the 1970s. In 1979, he created the semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz, in which the main character dies from his heart problems. Despite cutting back on some of his well-known excesses, Fosse did indeed die from a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 60.
Choreographer Bob Fosse's Signature Style
In addition to his more traditional dance education, Fosse had first-hand experience with the burlesque style of dance, and this informed much of his choreography. One of his earliest dance creations, choreographed at the age of 15, was a suggestive nightclub number featuring girls wearing ostrich feathers. This early moment hints at the larger thread of sensuality that would run through all of his work. However, his work isn't purely burlesque. It is its own unique amalgamation that results in cool jazz movements.
Typical costuming in a Fosse number included bowler hats - often tilted, vests, white gloves, and fishnet stockings or black pants. The women in a Fosse number often exude sexuality, through a combination of costuming and carefully-planned movements.
While many dancers strive to create long, lean lines, Fosse preferred angles. This might be accomplished with a turned-in knee or a jutting hip. Isolated movements are another hallmark of the Fosse style. Dancers might move just a hand, then just a shoulder. Finger snapping is another common dance element. Rolling hips and shoulders, and an overall "strutting" impression capped off the cool and modern feel of his work.
Some of Fosse's most famous musicals include:
- Damn Yankees
- The Pajama Game
- Sweet Charity
He choreographed both the Broadway and film versions of several musicals, and also choreographed the 1972 movie production of Cabaret. His work on this film earned him the Academy Award for Best Director. In fact, in 1973, the year the Oscar was presented, he also won a Tony for his work on Pippin and an Emmy for his direction of the Liza Minnelli special Liza with a Z, making him the only director to win all three of these entertainment industry prizes in the same year.
Fosse on Broadway
Bob Fosse's choreography is so iconic that he has been honored with a Broadway musical revue featuring his work. Fosse includes 30 of the choreographer's signature creations over three acts, including "Steam Heat" from The Pajama Game, "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity and "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago. It won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Musical.