Master teacher Lloyd Culbreath shows you the classic moves
Want to add some razzle-dazzle to your daily quarantine routine? The Verdon Fosse Legacy, an organization dedicated to preserving the work and artistic legacy of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, is here to help with #fosseminute — a series of short online instructional videos created to get dancers and non-dancers alike inspired and performing some iconic Fosse moves in their own living rooms.
In new videos released every Monday on the Verdon Fosse Legacy Facebook and Instagram pages and YouTube channel, the organization’s master teachers — or “reconstucteurs,” as they are officially called — will demonstrate iconic choreography from some of Fosse’s most beloved dance numbers. Each instructor has worked directly with Fosse or Verdon.
Before you flash those jazz hands, meet Lloyd Culbreath, who teaches the port de bras section from “Crunchy Granola Suite” from “Dancin’” in his #fosseminute video. Culbreath spoke with ALL ARTS about his favorite Fosse role, the dance and life lessons he learned from Bob Fosse, and more.
Fosse Shows I Have Done:
“Big Deal,” Mr. Fosse’s last original show. The tour of the 1986 revival of “Sweet Charity”; we were the very last cast he worked with. I was in “Dancin,’” part of an amazing cast that closed the show in New York. And I was in the national tour of “Chicago.” I was the dance captain and also played Billy Flynn.
“Chicago.” It was so ahead of its time, has a seamless book and fantastic score — and it was while watching this show as a teenager that I first got the notion of possibly pursuing a career in dance and theater.
Billy Flynn. I had the wonderful opportunity to cover the role while on tour with the revival of “Chicago.” Billy is such a delicious mix of charm, guile, greed, unscrupulous behavior and villainy! As a matter of fact, my closing performance on tour was as Billy Flynn. Wayne Brady became ill and was unable to perform, so I opened the show as Billy at the Pantages in Los Angeles.
That would be the Fosse port de bras. They are one of the most universally used elements in his choreography. So beautiful to watch. It’s like seeing a Grecian statue come to life.
There are so many. “Rich Man’s Frug” from “Sweet Charity” because of its brilliant construction and commentary on social dances of the time. “Big Spender,” also from “Charity” because of its raw sensual focus. “Crunchy Granola Suite” from “Dancin’” because of its explosive energy. “Cool Hand Luke” from “Fosse” — which was originally from a 1968 Bob Hope television special — because of its eerily quiet strength and elegance. But I’d have to say my absolute favorite is “Sing, Sing, Sing” from “Dancin.’” It is a jazz ballet like no other, a true masterpiece of rhythm, syncopation, energy, sexual tension and sheer exuberance. I often say that “Revelations” is to Alvin Ailey what “Sing, Sing, Sing” is to Bob!
The most challenging thing about doing Fosse choreography:
It would have to be the reduction of movement while maintaining the strength, energy and impact. You find while learning the choreography that it actually takes so much more energy and focus to dance that tiny. And with such precision. It’s quite a journey!
Advice for dancers trying to learn Fosse choreography:
Two things. First, be patient with yourself. There are so many layers to the movement: precision, style, historical references, economy, laser focus, subtext and emotional life. It’s such a daunting endeavor to try putting it all together at one time while attempting to make it look effortless. And the second thing would be realizing that it will never be perfect. You will never finish the journey of exploring the depths of the material. It could always be better.
Something I learned from Bob Fosse or Gwen Verdon I’ll never forget:
Something I learned from Bob: I quote this all the time. On the day of our final rehearsal with Bob that fateful opening day of “Sweet Charity” in Washington, D.C., in 1987 — he had a fatal heart attack on the way to the show shortly afterwards — he held us after rehearsal and spoke to us for quite a bit. There are two things that I remember most about that talk. “Every show closes,” he told us. There’s an end to everything no matter how fabulous, glittering or golden. So it truly is important to really savor those special moments. Another gem from that day: “Concentrate on the process, not the result.” The future isn’t guaranteed. What’s important is the work. Always the work. That will never let you down. If you feel that you’ve given a hundred-plus percent every day, then everything is always a success.
My experiences with Bob Fosse changed my life. He made me expect more out of myself, the productions I participated in and those around me. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity. And the memories.
Check out Lloyd Culbreath’s video here, and share your fancy Fosse moves on social media using the hashtag #fosseminute. Visit The Verdon Fosse Legacy YouTube Channel for more #fosseminute videos and other amazing content.
Top Image: Lloyd Culbreath. Photo: Rachel Neville.