by Anna Gross
A brief overview of notable choreographers, their inspirations, and their legacies.
The art of choreography has long since had a role in telling stories through movement in shows and recitals. These four famous choreographers have made their mark on today’s world of dance. Their stories need telling.
You may have heard of Bob Fosse, the choreographer known for his bowler hat and obsession with jazz hands. Inspiration for his iconic style came from the dark, provocative Vaudeville acts he performed. Fosse was also a writer and director whose works spanned film and stage. He won nine Tony Awards, including best choreography for the first two Broadway shows he choreographed. Some of his Broadway notables included The Pajama Game, Redhead, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Sweet Charity, Cabaret, and Pippin. Fosse also wrote the script for Chicago, one of the longest running shows on Broadway. Although Bob Fosse has been dead for 25 years, choreographers still use his style and type of dance now referred to as just “Fosse.” Next time you see dancers on-stage wearing hats and gloves and carrying canes, you’ll know who inspired them.
Unlike Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett wasn’t known for creating a specific style of dance, but his choreography is extremely well-known among theater lovers everywhere. His choreography is said to involve dance influenced by the performers. Bennett dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to join a tour of West Side Story. He began dancing on Broadway in 1961, and soon shifted to choreographing and directing. He choreographed the hit Promises, Promises, and co-directed Sondheim’s Company and Follies. Michael Bennett directed and co-choreographed A Chorus Line, which was the longest running show on Broadway with 6,137 performances before Cats in 1997. A Chorus Line shone a light on the frequently forgotten ensemble behind every show, and told the stories of desperate actors needing work. Unfortunately, this brilliant creative was forced to abandon some of his last works before dying from AIDS at age 44. Michael Bennett’s choreography is perhaps some of the most well-known amongst musical theater dancers. Give any theater kid a last four count of eight, and they will most likely break into his notorious choreography from A Chorus Line.
Dancers who felt bound to the restrictiveness of ballet turned to modern dance, which was made popular by Martha Graham. Her style was influenced by the contraction and release of breath and was a more weighted form of dance in comparison to ballet. Often called the “Picasso of Dance,” and the “Mother of Modern,” Graham’s pieces were inspired by the American frontier, Native Americans, Greek mythology, and often involved important historical and mythological women. One of her most famous pieces, The Chronicle, was influenced by the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, and the Spanish Civil War. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. The Martha Graham Dance Company, established in 1926, has two locations in New York City and continues to teach the Graham Technique today.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Katherine Dunham opened her first private dance studio for African American children while in high school. She went on to study at the University of Chicago, seeking to fuse dance with anthropology. During her time as a student, Dunham established the dance company Ballet Negre, one of the first black ballet companies in the U.S. She then completed her thesis in the Caribbean, focusing on dance forms created from the African diaspora. Choosing performance over continued education, Dunham worked on projects in New York City, Chicago, and Cincinnati. In 1948, Dunham and her dance company began performing outside the United States, appearing in over 30 countries. Katherine Dunham opened several dance studios, served as an artist in residence at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and was appointed a cultural ambassador to Senegal, West Africa by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Her work to unearth the beauty and power of African American dance forms and share them with the world is still recognized to this day.
The choreography and styles of Bob Fosse, Micheal Bennett, Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham are still used to create new pieces today. Check out their work below!
Rockettes “All That Jazz” Fosse Dance Tribute
“A Chorus Line Opening/I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre
“Steps in the Street’ from ‘Chronicle’ by Martha Graham
Katherine Dunham – Carnival of Rhythm, 1941
About Anna Gross
Anna Gross is a Sophomore in the Pre-IB program at Richwoods High School. She is involved in Student Council, Student Leadership Team, speech, tennis, and Spanish Club. Outside of school she loves to travel, bake, and perform as a singer, dancer, and actress!
Art by Terri Silva
Terri Silva is a 20-year-old sophomore at Bradley University pursuing a major in Television Arts with a minor in Interdisciplinary Film Studies. For Silva, art is a hobby in addition to a potential career, and she takes it very seriously. Silva thrives when she tells stories in all forms: drawings, films, writings, and more. Silva thinks of herself as a creative mind that wants to share ideas with others, while also taking in what they have to offer as well.