I am weirdly tempted to use a picture of Roy Scheider for today. Because really, when I think of Bob Fosse, I don’t think the man, I think the dancing. I think that’s true of most people. And while he did dance onscreen, mostly we knew about the choreography. Sure, he appeared on camera in Kiss Me Kate, but that’s not where most people think of him. We think Cabaret and Pippin and All That Jazz. We think of the actions, not the man himself, because that’s how behind-the-scenes stuff works. And while Bob Fosse was one heck of a dancer himself, he’s also the change in how dance was done.
It’s interesting that he spent the early years of the ’50s in the movies but then transitioned to the stage. It was a wise decision, really, as the big-budget musical was on its way out as Fosse’s star was rising. (I think there’s room for more big-budget musicals, but no one asked me.) On Broadway, he was able to do more experimenting, as with Chicago. (I’m reasonably sure the movie revived Fosse’s choreography.) His style was distinctive, and Broadway used it.
Honestly, he was an innovator in a lot of ways. His primary focus was jazz dance, but he was also inspired by things like the work of Fred Astaire. He added ballet to tap. What’s more, while he was of course known for his choreography, he also directed movies that had little or nothing to do with them. And, of course, All That Jazz, which was autobiographical while also being fantastic. He seemed interested in biopics in general; he made five movies as a director, and most of them were someone’s life.
But of course, his own insecurities shaped a lot of things, and not just the entire plot of All That Jazz. Hats and gloves featured prominently in his choreography because he was uncomfortable in his own skin in some ways. He started balding at seventeen, hence the hats. He never liked his hands, hence the gloves. Interesting that his own insecurities were projected onto his dancers, but that’s what he did.
Here, I suppose, is where I finally admit that dance isn’t my artform. I used to enjoy dancing, before my body went out, and I even took ballet as a small child, but organized, formal dance? Not something I know a whole lot about. The fact that Bob Fosse’s name is one that even I know should tell you something about that, though. There are not a lot of choreographers whose names are known to the general public, but Fosse is definitely one of them. That alone is kind of impressive.