This Artist Recreated Iconic Fosse Choreography—With Barbies

May 27, 2020

As virtually every dancer, choreographer or dance company with a smart phone and a web connection has put their original and archival material online, the internet is awash with options—short and long, professional and amateur, serious and ironic.

But few are as novel as Warren Wright’s recent effort: re-creating Bob Fosse’s iconic “Rich Man’s Frug” entirely with Barbie dolls. The self-taught graphic and visual artist admits to a penchant for 20th-century movie musicals and mid-century pop culture and, while he never played with his sisters’ Barbies growing up in Los Angeles, he began collecting them as an adult. So when he wound up with plenty of time on his hands while sheltering in place, the Brooklyn-based Warrencito (his nom de plume) put the dolls to use.

Warren Wright standing in front of his Barbies on set for Fosse's Rich Man's Frug
Courtesy Wright

Tell us a bit about your dance background.

When I was coming out in the early 1990s in Los Angeles, I had lots of friends who were back-up dancers for Britney Spears and were featured in other music videos. When we went out, I was on the dance floor learning moves from the big-name choreographers. People asked me if I was a professional dancer, and my running joke was, “No, I’m just gay.”

Why Barbies?

I’ve been collecting Barbies since the early 2000s. I’m very much into kitsch culture—the vintage Barbies are classic Americana. I just love the side-eye—it was just kinda shady, with an attitude. I began experimenting, first with dioramas in shadow boxes a few years ago, making set pieces and costumes like theater sets for Barbies.

And then stop action animation?

I began experimenting with that last year, before the shutdown, making stop-action videos—some less than a minute—of Hollywood films and TV shows. I did the Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell number “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” There was a little movement here and there, but it was more about formations.

And then?

I always admired Fosse and that number. The great thing about it for me is it’s really stood the test of time. It’s very chic and it’s very aloof. I worked in luxury retail for 13 years in the West Village and the aloofness is everything. I also noticed that a lot of the Fosse stances were like mannequins. I wanted to see if I could capture that sophistication.

How long did it take to make?

About a week and a half. A lot of it was setting up lights and figures and trying to make the figures stand where the camera doesn’t see the support too much but the camera still gets a movement. Also, I made some of the costumes and all of the sets.

How did you get the Barbies to “dance”?  My Barbies didn’t have arms and legs that could move like that.

I used the “Made to Move” Barbie. They have many more bendable joints than a traditional doll. But it’s almost like working with animals: There’s always the unexpected. You don’t know how long a joint is going to hold up. And the doll might fall or become unbalanced. To get the vintage looks, I use vintage Barbie heads on the newer bodies.

What about shooting?

I had the actual Fosse video right there to follow. When I filmed, it was a challenge putting the movement on multiple figures, doing them in sync and even the costuming. The actual number is five to six minutes; I cut it down to two or three.

I used my iPhone 10. I shot everything on it and edited on it. I used multiple apps to do it. The editing takes a while.

Tell us about the ponytail.

The only time I used Photoshop is for one part where the ponytail moves. In that number, the ponytail is its own character. I wanted the ponytail to be a little bit more exaggerated. When she does a hair flip, I had to hold the hair, so I had to Photoshop my hand out. Otherwise, the whole thing is very old school point-and-shoot.

Who’s seen it?

So far, I’ve had 65,000 views on Facebook and over 2,000 shares. One of the designers from Mattel posted it on his page. It really blew my mind when people on Instagram tagged the official Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon page and they actually reposted it! I was so worried about copyright infringement, but they fully embraced it. They said, “Feel free to do any Fosse numbers.”

What’s next?

I do want to do a “West Side Story”—that was such a huge musical for me and my family when I was growing up. My mother was a flamenco dancer. I was also thinking of Carmen Miranda. Friends have asked me to do a Madonna video—they want “Vogue.” If I do Madonna, I want to do the 1992 MTV Music Awards “Vogue” number when she’s dressed like a French aristocrat.

When I was 17, I wanted to be an animator for Disney. When I was 18, my mom gave me a video camera and I wanted to be George Lucas. When I was 19, I wanted to be a choreographer. When I was 20, I wanted it to be a fashion designer. I’m doing all of those now. It’s amazing what you can do with a hot glue gun!