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A Tribute to Madonna’s Current and Former Selves

Will Madonna ever get old? She may acquire more gravitas, continue to mature emotionally, find greater meaning in her work with Kaballah, but will she ever look arthritic, puffy, menopausal? This increasingly seems doubtful. Madonna no longer re-invents, she maintains.
It is the sheer spectacularity of her physical form, the near menacing force of it, and that alone largely, that sustains your attention in Confessions on a Dance Floor,”? the two-hour film of a concert she gave at the Wembley arena in London this past summer, which was broadcast on NBC Wednesday night and will be re-shown on Bravo. With each tour Madonna has embarked on in recent years, her deltoids seem to grow more regally expansive and robust, and her arms more wing-like. Toward the end of the Wembley show, part of a worldwide tour pegged to her album “Confessions on a Dance Floor”? Madonna sings one of its hits, “Hung Up,”? about a woman who migrates between boredom and agony as she waits for a man to call. But who could this man possibly be? Unless Madonna is expecting a call from Wladimir Klitschko, about meeting him in the boxing ring, the sight of her affecting weakness leaves you feeling as you would if you were forced to watch Ethel Mermen impersonate Chet Baker.
“Confessions on a Dance Floor” pays tribute to Madonna’s current and former selves with dizzying jump cuts and all the spectacle the acrobatics, playground sets, 600 costume changes ” that have become the hallmark of her concerts.
Today, Madonna, 47, is a concerned citizen of the world. She has made African AIDS orphans one of her causes and recently adopted a baby from Malawi, causing some controversy. At one point in the concert she sings “Live to Tell”? against the backdrop of various images of children in Africa and a speeding tally of the number who have been left parentless. But here again, her perfect musculature produces a kind of dissonance. Madonna doesn’t have an altruist’s body, she has a denier’s. What you’re tallying in your head when you watch her dance with the strength and agility of a 19-year old, are the number of hours she is spending each day practicing ashtanga, running hills, bench-pressing the weight of a Regency table. You are counting all the calories Madonna is not eating.
In addition to keeping up her legendary physical regimen, Madonna now also rides horses on her country estate in England. Some have seen this as another aspect of her Anglo-philic pretensions, but really what is surprising is that it took her so long to cotton on to a sport so steeped in the dynamic of submission and control. Madonna the equestrian seems the most inevitable Madonna of all. Perhaps realizing that on some level, she opened her Wembley show looking as if she were about to ride in some re-imagining of Ascot. Madonna dances around, directing men on all fours before she rides an apparatus meant to look like an electric horse.
In “Confessions on a Dance Floor,”? Madonna travels back to the beginning of her career, before she was encumbered with the need to do good. The documentary “I’m Going to Tell You a Secret,”? which follows her on her 2004 world tour, reveals a Madonna who wants to learn all the time, who hugs her assistant and dancers, who wishes she had been nicer to people when she was young. Perhaps she knows that many in her audience miss the Madonna of so many Madonnas ago, the one who refused refinement and probably thought Oxford was just an insurance company.
“Confessions on a Dance Floor”? gets deeper and deeper into her early disco years as it progresses with Madonna getting in and out of a Saturday Night Fever tuxedo and Jane Fonda-aerobics gear before it’s all over, as if to tell us that sometimes, yes, she misses her, too.
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