Full Frontal Fosse

By Solomons, Gus JR. | Dance Magazine, September 1999 | Go to article overview
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Full Frontal Fosse

Solomons, Gus JR., Dance Magazine

This headliner of Broadway's tribute to Bob Fosse has enough energy for two shows at once.

The wild halo of auburn hair that marks her stage persona in the Tony-winning Fosse is tied back in a casual bun. Elizabeth Parkinson has just come from a full day's rehearsal of a Mark Dendy workshop production, and now she has four hours to rest before going on as one of eight featured dancers in the Broadway hit. With her sleek, spare frame clad tidily in big khaki slacks and a white tank, she'd never be mistaken for the sizzling powerhouse we see onstage. She settles back on her dressing room couch in the Broadhurst Theatre to supply some autobiography.

Born fourth of five children in St. Petersburg, Florida, she excelled in school academics. At age eleven she saw a road company of Dancin' (created, coincidentally, by Bob Fosse) and immediately knew that it was what she wanted to do. So, at the relatively late age, for girls, of thirteen, she began studying ballet at a local studio. She spent summers at a monthlong Joffrey Ballet dance camp in Texas, which strengthened her technique and her determination to pursue dance.

Upon graduation as class valedictorian, she took a deferment from Wellesley College--where she had sought acceptance to please her parents, both professionals--and joined the Joffrey II company in New York City. Since then, she's danced nonstop. She moved into Joffrey's main company in 1984 and stayed for six years. Then, the deaths in the same year of her dad, a dentist, and Robert Joffrey, her artistic mentor, made her realize how deep her love of dancing was, and that it was time to broaden her horizons. Secretly, she auditioned and won a place in Eliot Feld's troupe. "I learned about really physical, athletic dancing, which I needed," she recalls. "Eliot was always saying, `Bend your knees! Go play in the mud! Get dirty!'

"It was a small company, so I got to dance a lot, which made me strong, both physically and mentally, because he can be a difficult man," she understates.

Then, in 1992, Parkinson was invited back to the Joffrey for Billboards. "I returned really a changed person, and I think they were surprised by it. I took what was given me, but I also fought for what I wanted. Before, I'd been afraid to ask for what I wanted because I wasn't sure I deserved it. That's the training of a dancer."

After two years with the company, she had saved enough money to study voice and acting and to begin freelancing in concerts and musical theater, including Singin' in the Rain in St. Louis ("the Cyd Charisse role") and the road company of Carousel.

Another tough choreographer, Donald Byrd, asked her to join his troupe. Byrd notoriously demands the utmost risk-taking, both physical and emotional, from his dancers--just the challenge Parkinson was seeking.

"With Donald you always knew where you stood. I felt like I could stand up for myself in an argument. It was more of an adult situation."

During the first season of Byrd's Harlem Nutcracker, she danced--among other roles--Sugar Rum Cherry (Ellington's version of the Sugar Plum Fairy). Ironically, Byrd created the character as a Fosse-style vamp. In rehearsal, she was the quintessential professional: unwaveringly dependable, focused, and generous, and she always danced everything fully. While her colleagues might take it easy here and there to nurse an injury or save energy, she gave herself fully to every step, the kind of discipline and dedication choreographers dream about getting from dancers.

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