In 2012, Broadway choreographer Chet Walker re-created 26 moments of Jack Cole's work at Queens Theatre in Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project. He invited friends and colleagues like Chita Rivera, Broadway dancer Marge Champion and Stephen Schwartz, composer of Pippin and Wicked. "How come I don't know about this guy?" Schwartz asked after the show. Chet reminded him what film star Julie Newmar once said, "Only the important people know who Jack Cole is."
Inspired by the show's response, Walker began his mission to codify Jack Cole's style, a blend of East Indian, Lindy hop and Afro-Cuban movement."When we do any kind of musical theater, Cole was the first person to put jazz on a Broadway stage," says Walker. "It's not just a style; it's a technique." (A physically demanding technique that consists of a two-hour warm-up!)
"We know Marilyn Monroe because of Jack Cole," says Walker. "Literally every mannerism she did on film was Cole." Photo from Dance Magazine archives
As part of keeping Cole's technique alive, Walker is currently working on a new Broadway-bound show, The Last Scrapbook, about the life and work of Cole. Not only will it pay homage to the technique, the show will also be about Cole's life and influence from Broadway to Hollywood and his partnership with David Gray.
In an attempt to draw talent for the project, which has been workshopped in London, Walker just wrapped an eight-week technique and repertory workshop at STEPS in New York City. The workshop experimented with his choreography and works on modern dancers. "The hardest part of putting the show together is finding dancers who are committed to learning the technique, who can do the variety of styles and stay healthy," says Walker.
Dance Teacher had front row seats at the recent STEPS workshop. Walker teaches a set warm-up, in which he emphasizes the core strength necessary for mastering Cole's movement. Here are three exercises, as well as an original Chet Walker combination, in the style of Jack Cole.
Développé à la Seconde on the Floor
A Core-Strengthening Sequence