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Originally published Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 12:05 AM

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Dancer Ann Reinking returns to her hometown for kids-theater benefit

A talk with Seattle native and dancer extraordinaire Ann Reinking ("Chicago," "All That Jazz"), appearing locally on Tuesday at a fundraiser for Broadway Bound.

Seattle Times theater critic

Coming up

Broadway Bound Benefit with Ann Reinking

"It's All About the Kids" luncheon, noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Sheraton Seattle. Suggested contribution: $150 (206-526-5437 or www.broadwaybound.org).

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Ann Reinking recalls her first public performance very clearly.

She was a Bellevue sixth-grader, and "my teacher, Mrs. James, told us we all had to be in the talent show," said Reinking, in her throaty alto. "So I performed a skit using a scarf to go through history as many different characters.

"Then another girl did a solo from 'The Nutcracker Suite,' with the whole bit — the slippers, the crown, the tutu. She was really good, and I'd never seen anything like it before. I wanted to do that, too!"

So Ann the budding actor met Ann the budding dancer. And the rest is history.

And what a history it's been for the multitalented, well-honored Reinking, the featured speaker at a Tuesday lunch benefit for the popular local music-theater program for youth Broadway Bound.

Reinking's rigorous dance training here, with Ballets Russes alumni Marian and Ilaria Ladre, led to chorus gigs in Broadway musicals ("Pippin," "Coco"), a featured role in the revue "Over There," and a career-marking artistic bond (and live-in love affair) with the brilliant choreographer-director Bob Fosse.

As a primo Fosse dancer, the leggy, russet-haired Seattle native co-starred in the 1979 Fosse film, "All That Jazz." And since Fosse's death in 1987 she's preserved his work with vigor.

Reinking won a Tony Award for her show-stopping performance in the long-running Broadway revival of the Fosse show "Chicago." (She played murderess Roxie Hart, a role she inherited from Fosse ex Gwen Verdon in the original run of the musical 20 years earlier). And she's amassed many TV and film credits.

She also co-conceived and co-directed "Fosse," an acclaimed Broadway tribute to her mentor. And she's resurrected his uniquely sly, sexy and jazzed-up choreography for various dance troupes.

"Bob's work is classic the way Jerome Robbins' choreography is," declared Reinking, 60, who currently lives in Phoenix with her fourth husband, sports writer Peter Talbot, and her teenage son, Christopher. "It's not dated, it still resonates. If it's done wrong, it looks cheap. But done right, it has great humor, profundity and delicacy."

Since retiring from dancing a few years ago, Reinking has concentrated on her own directing and choreography (for such companies as Pacific Northwest Ballet and Spectrum Dance Theatre), and on teaching.

She also has produced two award-winning film documentaries exploring challenging medical conditions her son suffers from — "Two Worlds, One Planet," about "high-functioning" autism, and "In My Hands," which explores Marfan syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder that can affect a child's skeletal system, cardiovascular system, eyes and skin.

"Chris has had to have major heart and back surgery," she noted. "But he's really bright, he's in college now, and he has a great sense of humor."

Reinking still spends much of the summer in Seattle, where much of her large family resides. And when Broadway Bound invited her to speak at Tuesday's fundraising event, she readily accepted.

"I knew my friend [former PNB dancer] Patty [Patricia] Barker was involved with the group, and I believe drama-outreach programs like this are very important. They can profoundly change kids, getting them to love and appreciate theater but also teaching them life skills, ethics and self-respect."

So one last question: Does Reinking think the "Dancing With the Stars" craze on TV is good or bad for the future of American dance?

"Dance is such a wonderful, universal expression, even if the bugle beads are wrong," she answered with a laugh. "When I taught recently at a community college, the students told me they just loved those dance-contest shows. So I said to them, you feel involved? They make you happy? Great!"

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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