Toronto
2 min

Fun, laughs, good times

And a great deal of pain & hard work

DANCE MR BOJANGLES, DANCE. Torontonian Cassel Miles in the touring company of Fosse. Credit: Xtra files

Cassel Miles is talking art and pain.



After the ensemble dance tribute to famed choreographer Bob Fosse opened in Buffalo last week, Miles offered an impromptu lesson to a woman who suggested it must be wonderful to hit all those contorted, extreme Bob Fosse positions.



“I told her, ‘Pinch your shoulder blades together, elbows into your waist. Let the hands drop.’ She’s hitting the droop position, completely uncomfortable. I said, ‘We’re not finished yet! Turn your knees in so they touch. Now walk.’ She just about fell over!

“It may look wonderful to be able to do it; it does not feel wonderful on that stage.”



Actor-singer-dancer Miles is familiar to local audiences for his Dora-nominated roles of Belize and Mr Lies in Angels In America, and for a part in John Greyson’s AIDS movie musical, Zero Patience.



In Fosse, he plays famed dancer Mr Bojangles in a featured solo.



Fosse began as a series of workshops in Toronto. Miles has been with the show for two years, since the 1999 Tony Award-winning show started its first national tour.



He recalls rehearsing with legendary, red-headed hoofer Gwen Verdon, one-time wife and longtime collaborator of Fosse’s. Verdon was special consultant along with later Fosse protege and co-creator of the present show Ann Reinking.



Verdon “could do everything we could do, but better. The thing she left me with was ‘Let them come to you.’ Mr Fosse’s work is so subtle – [his] choreography could be a finger circling for four counts. Make it bigger, and you distort the essence of the work; if you just do it, it speaks volumes by itself.”



With Verdon (who died last December), Reinking researched hours of taped and filmed work by the driven, innovative artist. Miles asked Reinking if there was an overall arc to the plotless show. “She said, ‘No. Each number is a show in itself.” Nearly 30 routines from Broadway hits and obscure TV gigs fill the show’s two hour and 15 minute running time.



As Miles notes, Fosse’s influence is still felt today: “Even in the hip-hop videos, you see Fosse’s moves – a classic being used as a classic.”



The man and his style could be hard on dancers, as Miles knows from his own aches and injuries. “This work is very tough on men’s hips; for the women it’s the neck and shoulders.



“He was a tyrant, a driving perfectionist – as were Gwen and Ann. Every morning it became routine to run through the full show as we had learned it to that point. You’re exhausted by noon and then it’s time to rehearse.



“Which did exactly what they wanted to do: build stamina, which you need. Because even though you’re doing a circle of one finger it requires all your focus.”



Miles, who is 36 years old, is a cast with members half his age. “There are 18-year-old men beside me. These boys can jump and spin like I could do back in time – and still do in this day, [but] it takes me another hour to get ready to do that.”



Miles was out of the show for months with a hamstring injury; he knows that, with the Fosse, art and pain go hand in hand.

“That’s something Gwen Verdon passed on to us: if you’re doing it right, it hurts.”



FOSSE.

$38-$92. 8 pm.

2pm. Wed, Sat & Sun.

Tue, Jun 19-24.

Pantages Theatre.

244 Victoria St.

(416) 870-8000.