Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse’s Wife, Gets Her Due This Fall

A dance isn’t simply in regards to the steps. But what if Gwen Verdon hadn’t occurred to Bob Fosse?

Nicole Fosse, their daughter, has a suspicion that her mom had an excellent deal to do with Fosse’s steps. Nicole was there when he would ask Verdon to indicate him just a few. He would rearrange them, change the angle. He would join them.

“He’d be trying to find something in his body, and she would get next to him and start imitating him,” Nicole stated. “He’d look at her and then all of a sudden there was this symbiotic thing that happened between them: And then there was the step.”

This October, as a part of the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center, Nicole is giving her mom credit score the place she believes credit score is due. In a competition fee, the Verdon Fosse Legacy — which Nicole fashioned in 2013 to advertise, protect and shield the work of her dad and mom — presents “Sweet Gwen Suite,” a trio of brief dances initially carried out on “The Bob Hope Special” in 1968 and “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969. Each featured Verdon, who will probably be credited, alongside Bob Fosse, with the choreography. (Verdon died in 2000; Fosse in 1987.)

Hat tip: Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon in “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” on “The Garry Moore Show” in 1962.Credit…by way of The Verdon Fosse Legacy

Linda Haberman, a former director of the Radio City Rockettes and a former assistant to Fosse, is offering route, reconstruction and extra choreography to offer the works a way of stream and arc. “Sweet Gwen Suite” is scheduled for Oct. 13 and 14 (different competition commissions are by Ayodele Casel, Lar Lubovitch and Justin Peck).

While it could be unimaginable to know the precise diploma of Verdon’s enter, her creative reference to Fosse — they met in 1955 and married 5 years later — created dancing that was brazen, lasting and so impossibly trendy that Beyoncé borrowed a few of it for her “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. If solely she had requested.

Nicole has no laborious documentation to show what Verdon contributed to the dances in “Sweet Gwen,” however she has studied her dad and mom’ work — and been within the room whereas they labored. When she was 18, her father choreographed a ballet for her: “Magic Bird of Fire.” Verdon was there, too, and she or he helped when he would get caught.

“She’d say, ‘Leave the room, Bob, come back in 10 minutes, come back in 20 minutes,’” Nicole stated. “And he would peek in, and he’d go, ‘Can I come in?’ And she’d say, ‘No, give us a little bit more time.’ And she would have constructed something. It was like she could read his mind. She knew what he was after. She could sense where he was going with something and then she could create that.”


But their inventive symbiosis wasn’t restricted to rehearsals. “Maybe what even happened in the studio wasn’t their first pass at it,” Nicole stated. “Maybe it was in the living room. There was a lot of dancing in the living room. A lot, a lot.”

Where does a choreographer cease and a dancer start? The significance of dancers within the inventive course of is unassailable, but energy dynamics persist. Should dancers who make up authentic casts be compensated for his or her contributions? In the extra experimental, up to date dance world, dancers are commonly cited for his or her choreographic collaboration, however in ballet and on Broadway — the place the possibilities of earning money are increased — dancers are not often given credit score.

The state of affairs of a choreographer and muse is murkier. Verdon’s dance lineage contains years with Jack Cole, the Broadway and movie choreographer, whom she danced with and assisted starting within the 1940s. “She trained in Afro-Caribbean and flamenco and East Indian and several disciplines of modern,” Nicole stated. “So that’s what she brought with her.” As for Bob Fosse: “You see his style change after he meets my mother,” Nicole stated. “It goes from Fred Astaire, Mr. Showbiz to something else.” (Mr. Showbiz being her father.)

“Sweet Gwen” is definitely a celebration of that assembly — and of Verdon herself. Taking over her components is one other spirited dancer: Georgina Pazcoguin, the New York City Ballet soloist who has appeared on Broadway and may blaze her approach throughout a stage.

“I am in no way, shape or form saying that like, ‘Oh yes, I know this,’” Pazcoguin stated. “And that’s what drew me to the project: This chance to really steep myself in a new dance language.”


Haberman, who carried out in “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’” (she was within the authentic workshop) and “Pippin,” was an assistant choreographer to Fosse on the Broadway present “Big Deal.” In “Sweet Gwen,” the dances, which by no means had formal titles, are named after the music: “Cool Hand Luke,” “Mexican Shuffle” and “Mexican Breakfast,” which impressed the Beyoncé video. To Haberman, that last quantity — with its jaunty head bobs and frisky, hip-gyrating walks — feels essentially the most like Verdon.

“What I actually think is really interesting about these three pieces is that they’re very soft and sweet, and there’s no dark thing,” Haberman stated. “There’s no irony.”

They’re additionally, she stated, simple. And they add as much as greater than a pose with a derby hat. In different phrases, Haberman is drawing out nuance and humor, together with — following Verdon’s lead — generosity and playfulness. It’s what made her dancing so pleasant. “To me, that’s why it’s so attractive, and that’s why I hate so much of the interpretations now,” Haberman stated of Fosse’s work, “because it’s hard — it all has hard edges and it doesn’t have any intention except kind of like counts and sex.”

At a rehearsal in July, Haberman broke down the motion, fixing accents and shifting focus, but in addition urging the dancers — two males together with Pazcoguin — to be as easy as potential. “I keep saying, when we get there, it has to be like nothing,” Haberman stated. “I mean the beauty of watching Gwen in those videos, it’s just like ahhh. There is just this ease. It was kind of Gwen’s brilliance. It just was easy.”

For the brand new suite of dances, Lynne Shankel has orchestrated and organized the music, by Herb Alpert, Lalo Schifrin and Johnny Mandel. While Haberman sees the primary two works as being choreographed by Fosse when it comes to their clear construction, “it doesn’t really matter to me in some way who choreographed it,” Haberman stated. “Bob and Gwen — she gave him stuff, he gave her stuff.”

“What I really suppose is basically attention-grabbing about these three items is that they’re very smooth and candy, and there’s no darkish factor,” stated Linda Haberman, right here rehearsing with the dancers. “There’s no irony.”

Their approaches had been totally different. Haberman stated that whereas Fosse would give dancers pictures for inspiration — “you should feel like a horse behind the starting gate” — Verdon was pushed by narrative. Haberman didn’t work with Verdon carefully however spent a while together with her after “Dancin’” opened and Fosse left to work on his semi-autobiographical film, “All That Jazz” (1979). Verdon was there to control the manufacturing. Haberman was rehearsing a pas de deux when Verdon requested her why she was leaving her companion at a specific second within the dance.

“I said, ‘Because that’s the step?’” Haberman stated. “And she goes: ‘No. Why are you leaving him?” She needed a story proper there. “She’s got a whole dialogue going on in her head, and that’s what’s informing everything she does, but it’s so simple and sort of so innocent. She makes an instant connection with whatever is coming out of her brain.”

Haberman’s staging of “Sweet Gwen” is taken from Verdon’s standpoint. For the primary part, a trio, Haberman instructed the boys they need to consider themselves as being Pazcoguin’s finest associates. “But for Georgina, it’s how you felt when you were a young dancer and you were starting to make it,” she stated. “There’s still a great innocence, and it’s fun and light, and you don’t even know how good you are yet. That’s the beauty of it.”


The second part, a solo for Pazcoguin, has to do with being in the course of a journey, not simply as a dancer however as a lady. The dances had been created at a specific time in Verdon’s life, after the movie adaptation of the musical “Sweet Charity,” during which Verdon originated the title function on Broadway. (The display function went to the youthful, higher identified Shirley MacLaine.)

“By then she had Nicole, and she was older and a mom,” Haberman stated. “It’s that time of life when you’re like, Oh. It’s not sad, but it’s all of those feelings. It’s mourning for the past when you were young but hopeful that the future has got better things for you.”

It additionally requires a top quality of vulnerability, which doesn’t come fully naturally to Pazcoguin. Generally, she dances sturdy roles. But it’s occurring at an excellent time: Pazcoguin just lately printed “Swan Dive,” an incendiary memoir about her life as a ballet dancer.

“It’s been a huge practice of vulnerability, just sharing my story in that way,” Pazcoguin stated. “I’m looking back to the past and being like that is the past. The past is fact, and the future is possibility. And I think that’s where it bubbles up in my chest and makes me want to cry. That’s what I hope to be able to portray and make the audience feel.”

The third piece, Haberman stated, is about proudly owning it. “This is like, I can come out here and be sassy and have a good time,” she stated. “I can turn around and do my take right back to Beyoncé.”

Haberman is drawing out nuance and humor within the dances, together with — following Verdon’s lead — generosity and playfulness.

The dancers, in that second, look into the route of the viewers and provides a purposeful nod — as if to say, sure, we all know in regards to the video. To Haberman, “people will get it maybe if they’re dancer nerds or they won’t — it doesn’t matter,” she stated. “But I think it’s just feeling of a grown, confident woman who owns everything about herself. And that, again, creates an ease because you’re comfortable in your own skin and you can have a good time.”

To Haberman, the suite shouldn’t be about celebrating some form of Fosse type — she doesn’t purchase into that anyway — it’s about dancing. The easy pleasure of excellent dancing. That’s what Fosse was after. And Verdon, too. Lee Roy Reams, an authentic dancer in each trios, stated that when Verdon danced, “it was more than that just her body.”

“She danced with her face and everything else that went with it,” he stated.

And with “Sweet Gwen,” Nicole Fosse is hoping for one thing else. “I would like some of my father’s and mother’s work to have a home outside of being embedded into a Broadway show,” she stated. “I think that there’s a dozen or more pieces that can live in the concert dance world.”

“Dancin’” is aiming for a Broadway revival in 2022. “I imagine it’s going to have a wonderful run,” Nicole stated. “But then when the show closes, it’s gone. And it’s a shame that ‘Big Deal’ or ‘Sweet Charity’ has to run on Broadway for those dances to be seen.”