Ann Reinking: playful, sophisticated and with legs for days on end

When I think of Ann Reinking I see legs. Legs in glittering black tights. Legs on heels. Legs that stretch effortlessly up to a 6 hour extension. They weren’t the only thing that made her dance so beautifully, but they were the anchor for her audacity. Aside from their shape, they had a power that rooted her body, giving her pelvic insulations a silky-smooth kind of groove and her precision a natural, teasing sensuality. Even when she was stretched out on a bed, her legs could tell a story.

Ms. Reinking, who died in her sleep at the age of 71 while visiting family in Seattle over the weekend, was one of Bob Fosse’s main dancers and his lover for a time. That bed features in a non-dancing scene from Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film “All That Jazz,” in which Mrs. Reinking plays a thinly disguised version of herself. At that point, she just wants Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider, in the role based on Fosse) to stop sleeping.

The dialogue is funny, but her legs steal the scene: leaning back, she drapes them naked across the mattress. Her power is enhanced by her piercing blue eyes and long, shiny dark hair, parted in mid-70s perfection. (Is there anything cooler than a 70s dancer?) But basically it boils down to those legs.

Mrs. Reinking made a career on Broadway and especially in the work of Fosse, to whom she was a muse. She officially met Fosse at an audition for “Pippin”, but she was already an admirer of his work. In an interview where she spoke about seeing “Chicago,” she said: “I was transfixed. It went beyond interest. I don’t know why it held my attention. And it was a low roar when they finished. “

In 1977, two years before ‘All That Jazz’ was released, Ms. Reinking, then 26, roared in ‘Chicago’ herself as she replaced Gwen Verdon – Fosse’s wife, who has starred in many of his major Broadway shows, including ‘Damn Yankees ”and“ Sweet Charity ”- as the chorus girl Roxie Hart , a role she reprized in 1996 when she staged the show in the style of Fosse for an Encores! presentation in City Center.

In the 1990s, Ms. Reinking became a keeper of the legacy of Fosse: The Encores! revival led to a Broadway production for which she received a Tony for best choreography. “The hope is that by rediscovering ‘Chicago’ the public will rediscover what theater was,” Ms. Reinking said in a 1996 interview in The Times. “It was sophisticated, complicated, mature.” (When the coronavirus was stopped, ‘Chicago’ was still running.) In 1998, she co-invented with Richard Maltby Jr. and Chet Walker ‘Fosse’, a revue that played on Broadway from 1999 to 2001.

Although most recognized for her work in musical theater, Ms. Reinking – known as Annie, at least in her “Dancin ‘days – began ballet. (Before the unveiling of the 1996 version of” Chicago, “she said that her choreographic approach was more ballistic than Fosse’s.) When she arrived in New York as a young woman, she had a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet. On the west coast – she is from Seattle – she had studied with the San Francisco Ballet and learned ballets. from George Balanchine.

It’s not often talked about when it comes to Ms. Reinking’s career path, but you can see it in her dancing: there is a deep-seated elegance, an internal organization of the body that you feel even when it is not expressed. One of the reasons why Margaret Qualley, who brought Mrs. Reinking to a wonderful life on the TV series “Fosse / Verdon”, was so good was that she shares that elegance; she was also once a ballet dancer.

Mrs. Reinking may have disappeared, but her dance lives on: lush, full, lush. And it’s not all Fosse. I forgot “Annie,” but in that 1982 film, Mrs. Reinking plays Grace Farrell, billionaire Oliver Warbucks’s secretary, who encourages him to adopt Annie. In the song ‘We Got Annie’, Mrs. Reinking dances up a storm.

Wearing a silky-soft yellow dress – which swirls around her legs like a partner – starts off with a jazzy, playful walk, pausing every few beats for a shimmy shoulder or a whirl. She kicks and withers like a rag doll. She storms down a hall, jumps over a chair, plays the harp with a few finger clippings and continues, spinning through space as if sliding on the wind – hazy, shiny but indelibly articulated.

What a daredevil! What a surrender! In her exuberance, it feels like Mrs. Reinking is showing us the sound of laughter. It’s over too soon, but it’s aptly named: at least in these few minutes, we’ll have our Annie too.