Down to Earth. 1947. USA. Directed by Alexander Hall. Courtesy Columbia Pictures/Photofest

The choreographer Jack Cole (American, 1911–1974) stands as one of the most influential figures in 20th-century dance. Gathering elements from ballet, ethnic and popular dance styles, and the avant-garde, Cole was a principal figure in the formation of “theatrical jazz,” the idiom that has dominated American stage and screen performance since the 1950s. Among the many choreographers his work has influenced are Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion, Alvin Ailey and, perhaps most conspicuously, Bob Fosse, who not only employed Cole’s distinctively angular movement and ironic show-biz references, but also married Cole’s longtime assistant Gwen Verdon.

Like his Broadway-to-Hollywood predecessor Busby Berkeley, Cole became a filmmaker in his own right as his stature in the industry grew, assuming complete control over framing, cutting, camera movement, and production design. His startlingly advanced and assured work often appears as a separate film-within-a-film, suddenly raising the stakes in otherwise undistinguished movies like The Thrill of Brazil (1946) and The I Don’t Care Girl (1953). Cole also gained a reputation for presenting the talents of particular stars, ranging from the accomplished dancer Rita Hayworth (Gilda, 1946) and the non-dancer Marilyn Monroe, with whom he worked on six films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). This series will include two illustrated lectures by the dance critic Debra Levine, who will also host a conversation with the dancer Barrie Chase, a frequent Cole collaborator (Les Girls, 1957) on January 22.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film.

Past events

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