Ann Reinking: Playful, Refined and With Legs for Days

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Ann Reinking: Playful, Refined and With Legs for Days

When I think of Ann Reinking, I see legs. Legs in shimmering black tights. Legs in heels. Legs that effortlessly extend to a 6 o’clock extension. They weren’t the only thing that made them dance so brightly, but they were the anchor for their daring. Aside from their shape, they had a force that ingrained their bodies, giving their pelvic isolations a silky kind of groove and their precision a natural, teasing sensuality. Even sprawled on a bed, her legs could tell a story.

Ms. Reinking, who died in her sleep at the age of 71 while visiting her family in Seattle over the weekend, was one of Bob Fosse’s principal dancers and at times his mistress. This bed comes into play in a non-dancing scene from Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film “All That Jazz”, in which Ms. Reinking plays a thinly veiled version of herself. At this point, she just wants Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, in the role based on Fosse) to stop sleeping around.

The dialogue is funny, but her legs steal the scene: she leans back and drapes it naked over the mattress. Her power is enhanced by her piercing blue eyes and long, shiny dark hair that is parted in the mid to 70s perfection. (Is there anything cooler than a 1970s dancer?) But those legs really matter.

Ms. Reinking made her career on Broadway and in particular in the work of Fosse, for which she was a muse. She officially met Fosse at an audition for “Pippin”, but she was already an admirer of his work. In an interview about seeing Chicago, she said, “I was banned. It went beyond interest. I don’t know why it just kept my attention. And it was a low roar when they finished. “

In 1977, two years before All That Jazz was released, Reinking, then 26, caused a sensation in Chicago when she replaced Gwen Verdon – Fosse’s wife who appeared on many of his major Broadway shows, including “Damn Yankees” and “Sweet Charity” – as choir girl Roxie Hart, a role she repeated in 1996 when she directed the show in the style of Fosse for a Encores! Presentation in the city center.

In the 1990s, Ms. Reinking became a keeper of the Fosse legacy: The Encores! Revival led to a production on Broadway for which she received a Tony for Best Choreography. “The hope is that by rediscovering ‘Chicago’ the public will rediscover what theater was,” Ms. Reinking said in a 1996 interview with The Times. “It was nifty, complicated, grown up.” (At the time of the coronavirus shutdown, “Chicago” was still on.) In 1998, she co-designed “Fosse,” a revue with Richard Maltby Jr. and Chet Walker, which was played on Broadway from 1999 to 2001.

While she was most recognized for her work in musical theater, Ms. Reinking began – known as Annie, at least in her “dancin” days – in ballet. (Before unveiling the 1996 version of Chicago, she said her approach to choreography was more balletic than Fosse’s.) When she arrived in New York as a young woman, she was on a scholarship from the Joffrey Ballet. On the west coast – she comes from Seattle – she studied with the San Francisco Ballet and learned ballets from George Balanchine.

When you talk about Ms. Reinking’s career path, there isn’t that much talked about, but you can see it in her dance: there is a deeply rooted elegance, an inner organization of the body that you can feel even when it is not expressed. One reason Margaret Qualley, who brought Mrs. Reinking to glittering life in the television series “Fosse / Verdon”, was so good was that she shares that elegance; She was also once a ballet dancer.

Ms. Reinking may be gone, but her dance lives on: lush, full-bodied, lush. And it’s not all Fosse. I forgot Annie, but in this 1982 film Mrs. Reinking plays Grace Farrell, the secretary of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who encourages him to adopt Annie. In the number “We Got Annie” Ms. Reinking dances up a storm.

She wears a silky yellow dress – it swirls around her legs like a partner – and begins a jazzy, playful stroll, pausing every few beats to move her shoulder or turn. She kicks and wilts like a rag doll. She tears down a hallway, hops over a chair, plays the harp with a few snaps of her fingers, and continues forward, spinning across the room as if sliding on the wind – fuzzy, shiny, but indelibly articulated.

What a daredevil! What a job! In her exuberance, it feels like Ms. Reinking is showing us the sound of laughter. It’s over too early, but it has the appropriate name: At least in these few minutes we will have our Annie too.