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Master Class with Ann Reinking: All That Jazz and A Little Ballet

by Judith Fein
June 25, 2009
Santa Fe, NM
Judith Fein's website: www.globaladventure.us
If there is a dancer with larger shoulders, bigger blue eyes and a closer tie to Bob Fosse, I don't know who she is. Ann Reinking was in Santa Fe this week, teaching a master class to excited teens and helping to stir up interest in the New Mexico School for the Performing Arts, which will open in Fall 2010. At one moment, I thought I felt a strange breeze blowing through the Dance Barn where the class took place. It was probably the spirit of Fosse himself, conjured by his illustrious star and ex-partner. The class was primarily focused on jazz dance, but included a little instruction in ballet as well.

Reinking's best-known performances include Goodbye Charly, Dancin', Chicago, A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity and, of course, All That Jazz, which was a fictionalized account of her relationship with brilliant, chain-smoking, overworked, burned-out, womanizing Fosse.

Inspiringly assisted by Michael Kubala, Reinking put her students through the paces with Fosse's choreography for Gwen Verdon when they did a Bob Hope Comedy Hour in the l960's. "It was the first thing he choreographed for her after she gave birth to their daughter Nicole," Reinking explained.

Her instructions to the future Reinkings and perhaps Billy Elliots were evocative and easily understood by the students: "Show me that tattoo" (rotate the shoulder forward), "flourish and flick" (for hand movements), "do something Mr. Fosse called 'tabletop hands'"(placing flat hands in the crease between the hips and the legs). Reinking insisted that the hands be cupped when they clapped and listened for the tone they created when they "hit their tummies;" she said that sound was very important to Fosse.

Reinking instructed the eager young dancers in techniques like "broken ankle," stabs, lunges and glissades performed with a torqued chest. When they had a bit of difficulty, Reinking quipped, "Let's just do that for a million years and then we'll move on." The teens gamely performed isolations, tendus, sweeping bandit gestures that partially concealed their faces, and created strong Fosse-like lines when they looked over their shoulders.

The most moving part of the master class was when the teacher talked about imagery. "The bottom half of you is a horse and the top half is a rider. You're in a ring in Spain. You are one of the best equestrians in Spain and your horse has practiced for 17 years to get to this point. You are as erect and beautiful as your horse. Your relationship to your horse is one of survival. You are one and the same. You can't tell where one stops and the other begins."

As Reinking evoked the mystical bond between horse and rider, the students' torsos grew more erect and their feet pawed the ground. "Remember, you're the greatest horseman in all of Spain. You are in a ring. Outdoors. There is dust on the ground. The audience is watching your every move. Put the tension in."

Reinking's gestures are sinuous, angular, brilliantly articulate. The students tried to imitate her, but that will take a lifetime of practice. "Skim like you're skimming the top of the water. Even the simplest gestures must be performed well. A great dancer holds the stage with nothing," she coached them.

"Don't rush. Savor each moment," Kubala chimed in. "Think of a plant growing. Fill, fill, so I see expansion."

When the teens slumped a little, Reinking had them repeat dutifully after her: " I feel good. Even if I don't. I'm an actress. I can fake it."

She was in her actorly element when she adopted a Spanish accent and instructed her students in how to act and speak with machismo. Then she asked the students to stride across the floor with energy and purpose. Kubala told them that "one of the hardest things to do is walk well on stage," and Reinking looked at each student with her piercing eyes, "Walk now. I'm watching."

During the short break, I asked Reinking if Fosse spoke a lot about imagery to his dancers. With an easy smile she replied, "There was always a subtext for every step."

At the end of the class, I sighed, wishing I were a teenager and could follow the steps of the divine Miss R.
Ann Reinking

Ann Reinking

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Ann Reinking teaches

Ann Reinking teaches

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Ann Reinking teaches

Ann Reinking teaches

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Ann Reinking teaches

Ann Reinking teaches

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


At the piano

At the piano

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


The view from the back of the room

The view from the back of the room

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Flamenco Clap

Flamenco Clap

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


Portrait of Ann Reinking

Portrait of Ann Reinking

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross


The point is...

The point is...

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Ross

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