15 December 2020 20:33

Ann Reinking Broadway theatre Bob Fosse

Ann Reinking, a Broadway legend known for her long association with fellow stage icon Bob Fosse and her innovative and award-winning choreography—as well as her roles on film—died Saturday in Seattle at the age of 71. "The world and our family have lost a vibrant, amazing talent and beautiful soul. Ann was the heart of our family and the life of the party," her family said in a statement released to Variety on Monday. "She was visiting our brother in Washington state when she went to sleep and never woke up. We will miss her more than we can say.

Heaven has the best choreographer available now. I'm sure they are dancing up a storm up there! Annie, we will love and miss you always!!!" Born in Seattle in 1949, Reinking began dancing as a child and, by the time she was 12, made her professional debut with the Royal English Ballet. As a teenager, she moved to New York, where Reinking realized her Broadway dreams, appearing as a dancer in such shows as Cabaret, Coco, The Wild and Wonderful, and Pippin. It was during the production of Pippin that Reinking met Fosse.

The two began a personal and professional relationship that lasted for years and led to Reinking's most notable role, that of Roxie Hart in 1977's Chicago (she replaced Fosse's former wife, Gwen Verdon, in the part). While her romantic relationship with Fosse ended by 1978, the pair parted on good terms and collaborated again for the 1979 film All That Jazz, which Fosse directed and based heavily on his own life. In the film, Reinking played a variation of herself. "It was me, and it wasn't me," she told the New York Times in 1980. "Basically I was very flattered. I think I came off as a good person and as someone who meant something to him." While Fosse, by most accounts, took some broad dramatic license with the details of his real-life demons, Reinking's character did factor into the one part of the film that rang most true: a choreographed scene with the young daughter of Joe Gideon (Roy Schneider), the Fosse stand-in. Renking and Fosse's daughter "used to dance together all the time, and were very good friends," Verdon said years later. "And Annie and I are friends, but I'm like the mother of both of them." Despite the potential awkwardness around their personal entanglements, Reinking and Verdon were close and remained so long after Fosse's death in 1987. When Reinking helped choreograph a revival of Chicago in 1996, where she again played Roxie Hart, Verdon was a vocal supporter. "It's perfect that she's doing Roxie," Verdon told the Times. "'She's been through the mill and that's what that character is about." The revival won Reinking a Tony Award for best choreography and spurred her next Fosse-related project: a musical revue of his greatest work called Fosse that Reinking co-conceived and co-directed. She was nominated for another Tony for that production. The show also marked her final Broadway role, in 2001. When I think of Ann Reinking, I see legs. Legs in shimmering black tights. Legs in heels. Legs that extend effortlessly to a 6 o'clock extension. They weren't the only thing that made her dancing so resplendent, but they were the anchor to her daring. Aside from their shape, they had a strength that rooted her body, giving her pelvic isolations a silky sort of groove and her precision a natural, teasing sensuality. Even stretched out on a bed, her legs could tell a story. Ms. Reinking, who died in her sleep at 71 while visiting family in Seattle over the weekend, was one of Bob Fosse's most important dancers and, for a time, his lover. That 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. In that moment, all she wants is for Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, in the role based on Fosse) to stop sleeping around. The dialogue is funny, but her legs steal the scene: Leaning back, she drapes them, bare, across the mattress. Her power is enhanced by her piercing blue eyes and long, glossy dark hair, parted in the middle to '70s perfection. (Is there anything cooler than a 1970s dancer?) But really, it comes down to those legs.