Why oh why couldn’t God make an exception? An exception to the rule that we all must die. Shouldn’t great dancers be exempt? Because it hurts so much when they pass away. In the video that follows, we see Ann Reinking, an Empress of Broadway — she died last week, way too young at 71 — in her peak form. It’s a bountiful build-out of Kander & Ebb’s “Me and My Baby” from Chicago, performed by the long-legged, voluptuous, froggy-voiced, big-eyed lady we are now mourning.
In this performance, stellar dance technique meets show-biz panache, like, bam! It defines Reinking. Yes, she and her two male partners knew their material inside out. But where they took it — for that audience!
I’ve never hidden my struggle with Bob Fosse’s work. I am not his biggest fan, and when I do feel admiration, it is often begrudging. But seen through this dancer’s body, I so enjoy Fosse. As his muse (subsequent to Gwen Verdon), Reinking transformed the robotic, two-dimensional, and niggly nature of his work with her prodigious curves and angularity. Her technique here is beyond any dancer’s dream (and it was no dream getting it, only hard work) as she hits every mark with such eloquent shape and pristine timing. Her performance joy just adds juice.
I love every second, but the first fifty seconds are already a standing ovation. The donning of the bowler hat; the skinny, tippy-toe forward-march; the explosive double-bumping butt. The high-stepping Cakewalk, the finger to the brim-of-hat, then again, the smile — how close to the surface she holds her pleasure! At 01:30: When did not-a-belly-dancer punctuate as splendidly with her pelvis? At 1:40, how she channels Bojangles with those stuttering little steps capped by “aw shucks” hand gestures. Convert this dance to oratory: it would burble and bubble, rat-tat-tat and delight your ears. It would sound like Barbara Stanwyck when she gets on a roll.
Enter the boys! In this trio, three dancers adhere like an organism, one I savor putting under a microscope. Where is the scotch tape attaching them? Fosse dancer Lloyd Culbreath informs us via the Fosse/Verdon Legacy that the the blonde is David Warren Gibson and the dark-haired dancer is ‘probably’ Christopher Chadman.Please let us know if you have a different i.d.
Look at that strut!
Then after climbing this aerobic mountain of choreography, she caps it with two insouciant, perfectly placed grand jetes. Not a wobble in her finish.
Bow down! In the Facebook memorializing of this amazing all-American dancer, the dancer/choreographer Toni Basil perhaps put it best. Toni wrote one word: “impossible.” What dancer would not kill to be her?
In live footage from Chicago in 1996, below, Reinking performs the up-tempo version of “Me and My Baby.”