NEW YORK – Long before she became a Tony Award-winning choreographer, Ann Reinking waited tables to save up enough money to move to New York City. She arrived with $500, no job lined up and no connections.
When she died at 71 last year, Reinking left behind many fans, friends and students as well as a legacy of a cool, muscular dance hybrid of jazz and burlesque.
In her honor, friends and admirers have established The Ann Reinking Scholarship, a $5,000 annual award and mentorship for a young dancer moving to New York City to help support them in their artistic endeavors.
“She was one of the most profoundly generous people that I’ve known,” says Bebe Neuwirth, a two-time Tony winner who co-starred with Reinking in “Chicago” on Broadway. “This honors that in a way that also references her story of coming to New York.”
The scholarship is being awarded by Off the Lane, a mentorship program for young performers moving to New York. It will be open to anyone, from anywhere, with a cut-off age of 21.
“Teaching to her was such an important part of her, mentoring and nurturing new artists and helping them along the way,” said Neuwirth. “I think to have a scholarship in her name keeps that generosity of spirit going.”
Trained as a ballet dancer in her native Seattle, Reinking was known for her bold style of dance epitomized by her work in the hit revival of “Chicago,” complete with net stockings, chair dancing and plenty of pelvic thrusts.
Reinking co-starred as Roxie Hart along with Neuwirth’s Velma, and created the choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse,” the show’s original director and choreographer who died in 1987. She and Fosse worked together for 15 years and she was also his lover for several of them.
Her movie credits include “Annie” (1982), “Movie, Movie” (1978) and the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” (2005), which portrayed Reinking as a ballroom-dance competition judge for New York City kids.
Reinking’s work on “Chicago” earned her a 1997 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. Reinking replicated its choreography in productions throughout the world.
Mindy Cooper, who was a swing in that 1996 “Chicago” revival, recalls once asking Reinking career advice that changed the arc of her career. She also remembers Reinking one day bringing her son to rehearsals at “Chicago,” an encouraging signal that Broadway dancers could also have a family life.
“She created such a safe environment for performers to bring to the room with courage and artistry,” said Cooper, now a professor of theater and dance at University of California, Davis.
“Annie grew up in the ballet world like myself and came to theater from ballet. So we wanted to make a scholarship that could embrace all forms of dance.”
The advisory board for the scholarship includes Cooper, Neuwirth and such Broadway luminaries as Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, Tommy Tune, Marilu Henner, Hinton Battle, Charlotte d’Amboise, Reinking's husband, Peter Talbert, and son, Chris Reinking Stuart.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits