During her talk on Jack Cole, Levine showed a Haitian dance number Cole choreographed for the film Lydia Bailey , which he traveled to Haiti specifically to research. The ceremonial number feels complex and authentic, removed from the flashy spectacle of commercial dance.
South American dance, meanwhile, is most brilliantly on display in the finale production number of the film The Thrill of Brazil. The elaborate sequence, which Levine screened as the grand finale of her talk on Jack Cole, is a stunning example of Brazilian dance on a Hollywood scale. Multiple groups perform separately and together, interweaving themselves around the stage in elaborate formations that result in multiple layers of movement.
The Brazilian choreography is fluid and hypnotic, based in undulating isolations and grounded movements. His choreography is mature, cool, and distinctly modern for its time, with angular shapes, turned-in feet, and the isolated movements that became the hallmark of jazz dance. Though jazz as a dance form really exploded in the s, Cole introduced the form on film far earlier. What Levine believes to be the first instance of jazz on film is in the Columbia film Eadie was a Lady.
As his career progressed into the s, this style became even more elaborate and technical as Cole continued to codify and develop his signature form. As choreographer Wayne Cilento noted at the retrospective, Cole has also had his own influence on every theatre and jazz choreographer that has come after him. Though individual choreographers developed the form further and put their own spin on his movements, the basic jazz foundation that Cole set forth still feels as distinctly relevant as ever.
Rather, most of the number consists of just a sustained shot of Gaynor and her two male dancers, placing the emphasis squarely on the dancing and choreography.
Bob Fosse | The Official Masterworks Broadway Site
This choreography, however, ensures the number is just as spectacular as any elaborate production. The routine itself, though, is an intricately constructed sequence of technical steps, complete with tambourines, cartwheels, and fast weight and direction changes. This number has everything: black cats, fake tigers, a pool of water, fire, split-second costume changes, and protesting suffragettes. All are set against a stunning Modernist backdrop, as the expansive soundstage is painted a bright golden yellow and is accented by thin black ramps and staircases.
Naturally, this spectacle is all in service of the star.
‘All that Jack (Cole)’ Film Series
The male dancers are prototypical Jack Cole jazz dancers, clad in black suits and intensely stylized. Perhaps the most interesting visual moment comes when Cole has dancers performing behind a wall of empty glass bottles, their steps refracted through the curved glass panes. Gaynor is, again, the central star here, grabbing attention through slow isolations and twirls of her voluptuous skirt.
The female chorus is also strongly assured, clad in attention-grabbing, long, hot pink skirts and led by Gwen Verdon.
Verdon commands the screen in her breakout solo moments, which feel both explosive and highly controlled. Cole may have made a career by putting the attention on the stars he worked with, but MoMA and Levine did a great service by giving Cole himself the spotlight he so deserves. Start presenting Close.
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