Introduction: Ann Reinking [b. 1949] is a multiple-award-winning actress, dancer and choreographer. Her Broadway credits include Cabaret, Coco, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Chicago (both the original and the revival), Sweet Charity and Fosse (for which she won a Lawrence Olivier Award.) Her movie credits are Movie Movie, All That Jazz, Annie and Micki and Maude. She has choreographed for dance companies including American Ballet Theater, Ballet Hispanico, Joffrey Ballet Chicago, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Kansas City Ballet. A longtime dancer, muse and companion of Broadway legend Bob Fosse [1927 – 1987] she is known today as a primary interpreter of his choreographic style and work. She will be in Omaha this month to restage her 2017 piece In The Style of Bob Fosse for American Midwest Ballet, which will perform it October 11 at Joslyn Art Museum and October 13 at the Iowa Western Arts Center.
1. You had an extensive career which more recently has been portrayed in the FX series Fosse/Verdon. What were some of the takeaways you saw in the series?
I only saw the first two episodes at the Museum of Modern Art for the opening, so I really have nothing to say. I just hope that they were nice to Bob and Gwen because they both were amazing human beings. I trusted them both completely. They were deep friends. Gwen asked me to direct Fosse [a 1998 Broadway musical based on his life] and she also approved that I would do the choreography for Chicago in Bob’s style the 1996 revival for which she won the Tony Award for Best Choreography
Gwen also was incredibly nice to my son, who has Marfan syndrome, which is a rare, life-threatening genetic disorder; she did a lot of research about it, certain physical therapy that he could do that would strengthen his muscles. She just was a beautiful human being. They
both were. Bob gets a bad rap a lot, and I really don’t understand why. It just becomes more and more exaggerated. They were consummate, brilliant, genius people, and I hope that comes out if you watch the series
2. What was something that set you apart from other dancers that caught the eye of your mentor, Bob Fosse, at the beginning of your career?
I think it was the fact that I love dancing, and I think it showed. I particularly loved the use of improvisation along with very structured choreography — the combination of organic and organized. That was very beguiling to me. So I think it was obvious that I loved it and wanted to do it, because that’s the way I felt.
The first audition for Pippin [her first show for Fosse]… was all day, and I was just having the best time ever. I had never really quite dealt with this style of dancing, because my training was in classical ballet. [But] my training suited the choreography because it was a combination of his style and a classical style. So at the end of the first day of auditioning, I said to myself: “Even if I don’t get this, I’ve had the best day of my life.” So it was really a thrill when I did get it.
It was probably obvious that I really liked the work, that I like dancing, period, and that I would work hard. I think the most important thing is trust. If the choreographer trusts you, he or she will wait for you if you don’t get something right away, or will do something a little different [that is] tailored toward you. I think that’s what happened, there was an immense trust. I trusted him and he trusted me, I think, by the time I got the job.
3. What is something you wish you could have done differently in your career?… if it was working on a certain project, collaborating with different choreographers or artists?
I’m really quite happy with the way my career went. I mean, I would have loved to have been Peter Pan at one point, but it never happened. I never tried out for it, either… it’s just a character I have always loved.
But really, I couldn’t say that I would do anything different at all. It’s been a wonderful life. Every dancer always feels this way: they always wish they could be better. That’s the struggle of a dancer — you’re going for perfection, which is in itself impossible. But that’s how you improve, that quest.
I danced with wonderful choreographers: Agnes DeMille, Pat Birch, Michael Kidd, Michael Bennett, Tommy Tune… remarkable, major, first-rate choreographers. I’ve been fortunate, and I don’t think I could really improve on the quality of work that I’ve been allowed to do.
4. What are two big life lessons that you have learned pertaining to the dance industry?
What you do in the dance world is exactly the same as what you would do in real life. And the most important thing to do is build trust. Be the kind of person that your employer knows always does his or her best work; works very hard; and comes back the next day even better, having done the homework.
Whatever it is, you care for your work, as you would a person you love. You would want to do the very best for them.
Trust is one of the most key elements in life, and if you break trust, it’s almost impossible to get it back. It’s the same for a dancer, a job, a human relationship, a relationship with your pet — it’s the same principle. You need to build trust and never break it.
5. Aside from being highlighted in the FX series, what would you want your personal dance legacy to be and stand for?
I would like to be known as somebody who did her work well, to the best of her ability, and obviously loved and respected what she did. I want to be respected, obviously, and I have been fortunate — my reviews have been very good. I want to be known as the kind of person who, if someone hires me, they know I’m going to do the best job I can… not every show works out, but you want it to be a ‘quality miss.’
I always teach my students that if you decide to do a work, it has to be as important as, say, working in a hospital. If you’re a nurse or a doctor, not every patient’s going to live — but the reason you can go to sleep at night is that you did your best for every patient and that every patient was as important to you as your own life. You’ll save more than you lose. And I think that‘s key; I know it is
[Questions asked by Jim Williams for American Midwest Ballet. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.]