The Making of Blond Ambition and Vogue: Choreographer Vincent Paterson talks about Madonna
Vincent Paterson first worked with Madonna on her controversial Pepsi commercial. Before that he choreographed for Van Halen, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. The brilliance of his choreography can currently be seen on Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, and her Vogue video. Vincent Paterson met with Michael Louis in New York City this past April upon his return from Madonna’s tour kick-off in Japan.
M.L.: How long have you been working with Madonna?
V.P.: I did the Pepsi commercial last year, choreographed Express Yourself for her and then I choreographed and directed the Blond Ambition tour.
M: How did you hook up with Madonna?
V: Originally? I used to work with Michael Jackson a lot, choreographing the Bad Tour. He brought a director in named Joe Pitca who directed The Way You Make Me Feel which I choreographed. Joe Pitca was directing the Pepsi commercial so he hooked me up with Madonna.
M: How did you get started in choreography?
V: I was a director first, then an actor, dancer, and then I started choreographing And then I just sort of jumped into it pretty quickly. I assisted Michael Peters on a lot of things. But I made the decision to begin choreographing and got out there very quickly and choreographed a Pepsi commercial for Lionel Richie with fifty dancers. And then I did a video for Van Halen, Hot For Teacher and then I did California Girls for David Lee Roth and it just took off.
M: The controversy over the Pepsi Like A Prayer commercial you choreographed. Were you informed the video was going to be taken off the air?
V: They showed it once on the Grammys or Super Bowl, one of those monster events, and that was the only time it aired.
M: Seemed like it was on the news more than it was as a commercial?
V: Yeah. It aired once.
M: Do you think it was a publicity stunt by Pepsi?
V: Who knows what goes on in the politics of America. Do you ever know? No. I think there was a confrontation with the groups. Pepsi has so many major stars representing their product I don’t think that ploy did anything for them. In fact, I know it probably did a lot of damage in sending people back over to Coke. Because people got pretty angry that a company as large as Pepsi would bow to the whims of a small sector of religious fanatics.
M: I don’t think the companies realize how many people disagree with the fanatics.
V: Those people are organized so they have a single voice whereas the rest of America, we are independents, so we don’t have one voice in which to speak, so our opinion doesn’t get heard. They have a minority that’s strong and organized and consequently…
M: How did you get involved in the Express Yourself video?
V: For that project I was the choreographer. Madonna called me and said: “Hey, you want to do a video,” and I said, “Sure, I love working with you.” So, she pretty much had ideas and concepts with David Fincher, and I came in and filled in a lot of the blanks, just as a choreographer.
M: Fill in the blanks?
V: Well, she had one piece that one section of the video she wanted to do dressed up in a man’s suit so I created that. Another section that were men fighting, I did that, and another section doing gymnastics, I did that. And the last section was the guy coming in and picking her up from the bed, ravaging her, sort of, and I did that because it was a very touchy scenario and it had never really been done before in video so I wanted it handled correctly.
M: Any interesting stories about the making of Express Yourself?
V: I think the funniest part was the first day Madonna had to be topless on the set. She was very, very, nervous about that. Very uptight. But she’s so relaxed the second day. You know, it was fine, she didn’t care. It was no big deal.
M: It’s funny how she’s always playing the role of the Vixen. But the picture of her in Vanity Fair by Helmut Newton where she has a sh*t-ass grin with her head back, she looks like a little girl.
V: She is like a little girl. She’s an artist and being an artist I think you have to have a little kid in you, an old person in you, and masculine and feminine. It’s more than being just a singer, songwriter or something like that. That’s the beauty of her and that’s the reason I love working with her. She’s not afraid to make statements. She’s not afraid to make comments on political situations, or sexual role playing, or cross dressing, or fantasy. And in fact, the further you go, the further she wants to go with you.
M: Where did the idea for Madonna to grab her crotch in Express Yourself come form?
V: It happened basically as a gag. A joke that wasn’t suppose to happen and it happened on a take, and we kept it. She had been kidding me a lot about Michael Jackson and the crotch grabbing. So it was sort of a joke and I said to Madonna: “Well, you’ve got balls, grab ’em.” (laughs). So she did.
M: Any controversy over that scene?
V: No. I think it worked to our advantage. People said: “Yeah, she’s strong. Women can have a voice and…”
M: Do you think besides her singing, a lot of people like her because she stands up for peoples rights to express themselves?
V: Oh, yeah. She’s done so much for AIDS. She’s an artist. That’s the difference. She’s not a recording star, which the rest of them are. She’s an artist. And that’s what sets her apart. And that’s what I think also makes her controversial and also gives her more freedom. Because she’s presented herself as an artist; musically, visually, cinematographically. Every aspect she pushes the limits on herself and pushes the buttons on everybody else who watches her, whether they are fans or not. I don’t think she has concerns about pleasing people. I think the most important thing is to be true to herself and what she believes in.
M: Looking at photos of Madonna since the the beginning of her career, she’s gone through so many changes, young, old, mannish, girlish. She seems to go back and forth. In person, do you see these changes?
V: No. She’s a lot of fun. She’s very real. I’ve worked with a lot of people in this business. She has the best grip on success that I ever acknowledged. I first noticed it actually when we were doing this Pepsi commercial. We shot a scene in a Catholic school in a hallway. It was Madonna amidst, maybe, twenty school girls that were from seven to thirteen years old. And you know, like, instead of going out to the trailer to hang, there was a little break, and she said: “Hey can you open up one of these classrooms?” They opened up a class-room and she took all the girls in there for a half hour and they all just sat and talked.
M: They all came out smoking cigarettes… (both laugh)
V: (laughing) She came out in a Catholic uniform… But she’s like that throughout this whole tour. She’s close to the kids, the dancers. She hangs out with them. Goes to the clubs with them. She’s really genuine.
M: So you went from Express Yourself to the Blond Ambition tour? Did you get involved with the Vogue video?
V: I came into the Vogue… Madonna had another choreographer involved in the project. She didn’t have a director. I was doing a couple of films at the time.
M: What films?
V: Havana with Sydney Pollack and another film that I left with Cannon Productions.
M: Havana ?
V: It’s with Robert Redford.
M: Is it a musical? What kind of choreography do you do?
V: It’s not a musical at all. It takes place in Havana during the five days of the Castro takeover and there was a lot of incidental movement that happens throughout party scenes. Everything had to be very real. I also wrote a scene that happens in a porno house. Sydney Pollack wasn’t happy with what was written, and asked me to come up with a different idea for this show that Robert Redford goes to watch with these cookies he picks up. I did that and I guess Madonna was having some artistic differences with the choreographer and asked if there was anyway I could get involved. At first I couldn’t. But she kept asking me and I finally said: “Okay, I’ll make it work out.” And we did. I came in the Tuesday before Vogue was to be shot on Friday. She and the guys had put a lot of movement together and I just basically cleaned it up for the video, and that was my involvement. But we do it in the show (Blond Ambition).
M: What about the rehearsal shown on MTV with Madonna wearing biking shorts. How similar is it to the concert?
V: The clothing is close to what we use because Gaultier gave Madonna a full rehearsal wardrobe for herself and all the dancers. The show’s all Gaultier with a few other things added here and there. Ninety-five percent Gaultier.
M: How did that come about?
V: When I became involved with the show, Gaultier was already doing the wardrobe, and her brother Chris had already designed the set; although I changed the formation of some of the sets, and she had sketches of a set list which I altered. Some of the things I changed completely because they didn’t inspire me or I just didn’t think they belonged in the show as it progressed. And I came into it and she said: “I need someone to take it in their hand and direct it, choreograph it, and make it happen. And then I have three weeks. I have eighteen days to do eighteen songs and then I have three weeks on the stage.” At which point I completely changed two pieces and slightly remolded some of the other pieces.
M: What happened with Vogue?
V: They had some pieces they had put together from the video; but if you look at the video there’s not much dancing really, and a lot of it’s just free style voguing. So, I took a bit of the images that they had, and incorporated them when I could, or when I thought they worked well on stage, but they were really done for film, and I built the rest of the piece around it. It’s really a statement not only of voguing but fashion runway work and voguing together, which is the way I see the piece.
M: So there was some movement when you came in?
V: No. There was no movement to it when I came in.
M: It’s interesting how VOGUE has been around for a couple of years and…
V: It’s been around longer that that. As a dance form it’s been around for a couple of years, but really it’s just from fashion. Fashion runway. So how long has fashion runway been around?
M: That’s what’s funny about Madonna. Malcolm Mclaren had a cult hit last year…
V: House of Vogue…
M: And then all of a sudden Madonna brings it to Middle America and turns it into a pop icon.
V: Right. Michael Jackson did the same thing with the Moonwalk. I mean the Moonwalk was around long before Michael Jackson got a grab on it. But it takes somebody like a Madonna or Michael Jackson to introduce it to the public. How many people do you know who go to dance clubs in middle America? Anybody over twenty-five, it just doesn’t happen. They really go to where the real dance is happening, that sets the trend for what is going to go on. So people may be a little familiar with or hear about it. But it takes a major superstar to introduce it to the public and say: “Take a looks at this. This is what’s happening.”
M: What was your concept — the feeling you’re trying to give to Blond Ambition?
V: The first thing Madonna said to me was: “I want you to break every rule you can think of, then when those are done, make up some more and break those too.” So that is how I went into the tour; with complete artistic freedom to do whatever the f*ck I wanted to do. And working with someone like her, she encouraged that. You know, she fans the flames. We had a few, a few minor discussions about places where she thought she didn’t want to go till I made her try it a couple of times. I think it was a little nervousness not having touched territories like that before. As far as the dance goes, we touch on everything from Voguing to hip hop to classical ballet. So a lot of the stuff she’s never done in front of the public before, some modern partnering work, lifts… She was a little nervous about it in the beginning. Twenty minutes later, she wasn’t. You know? But it was great, it presented a bit of a challenge to her and the whole entire situation of the time pressure made it a challenge to me. The other thing we wanted to do was to create a new presentation of concert work going into the nineties. And I think we’ve done that. The format is completely different. The show is one complete sequence. It never stops. We don’t do a song and wait for applause. Everything transitions the entire show until it’s done.
M: Are there a lot of clothing changes?
V: Oh, god, yeah. Well I’m not going to tel I you how. That’s I ike, uh, sort of telling you what’s in the Christmas box before Santa gets there. But there’s changes every song. Basically there’s some form of different costume change and there are many set changes. The show is divided into segments. Dance, heavy dance segment. Church section. A Dick Tracy section. And then another long dance section.
M: Have you seen anything from Dick Tracy? Any rough cuts? (interview was done in April before the movie opened).
V: Maybe, but not to me. I didn’t have time to see anything.
M: So your inspiration for the Dick Tracy segment?
V: Music. My history, my imagination.
M: Did you play with the color themes they use in the movie?
V: Just the yellow, that’s basically all.
M: So you went to Japan?
V: I went to Japan to start the tour. Tokyo.
M: How many cities did she do in Japan?
V: Three. She’s still there.
M: Oh, I thought everyone came back Monday.
V: They’re still doing it. The end of this week is Yokohamo. Three in Tokyo and then I came back. Three in Osaka, and three in Yokohamo. And then I’ll join her again in Houston because that (Japan) was all out-doors. So now I’ve got to restructure some of the stuff. They went on ramps. Ramps that extended out into the audience, which we don’t have at our venues. We do have people behind the stage at some, so I want to restage moments so that those people are included in the show. Lighting had to alter outdoors as opposed to the intensity of indoor lighting. And it’s the kind of show that is completely directed and choreographed, from the first moment to the last moment. So it’s not something that you can abandon. It’s sort of a cross between a Broadway show and a Rock concert, or something like that. It’s a pretty new animal and it’s not something I can just walk away from and abandon because it needs to have an eye come in regularly to find tune it.
M: Do you feel it’s going to change a lot as it goes across the U.S. like a Broadway show before it opens, or is it pretty much cleaned up in Japan?
V: No. It was clean for Japan. Now two weeks later go back and clean it up again for the States and then I’ll go to Europe and clean it up before the European leg. Uh, it’ not a really long tour. It’s only four months. Otherwise I’d probably be jumping back and forth a lot more than I have, and I’ll be in L.A.. And I will be following it along as it goes. But it can’t just be left o itself. Some of the images must be so clean to have the impact in which they were created. I can’t just let it go. The only part that will become it’s own is as the performers become more involved and more relaxed as performers, but that just happens by doing it in front of an audience.
M: Did you have a choice with the dancers?
V: No. She brought them in. She did one incredible job. It’s an eclectic group of guys. Some people have trained with Elliott Feld. Other people have done everything from company work to Las Vegas, and some of the kids are just from the streets and clubs. There’s seven guys and two girl backup singers who are also real incredible dancers. And then there’s one, two, three, four, five—six band members. The band is more like a Broadway Orchestra. They sort of create the soundtrack or score to the images that are created. It’s more about images and the music, than it is about watching the band get up and play.
M: So it’s kind of like a Broadway play. The orchestra is hidden?
V: Yeah, in that regard. A couple of pieces I bring them on a lot closer, but for the most part the entire stage is encompassed by visions. I just felt in this MTV life people are now becoming accustomed to having a vision created for a song. And I am that way as a director and choreographer anyway, and I figure, well I want to do the same thing here. I want every piece to be completely different than the last piece and every piece to be as strong as the one before or one after that. When you leave the theater and go home and play the music, I’m hoping that my images — the images that Madonna and I have created will even over ride the ones from the videos. That’s my dream of course.
M: Does Madonna talk about Dick Tracy at all?
V: No, she just was a little…
M: Was she scared?
V: No. She reacted like any other actress would react. She went and saw a rough cut and of course, you know seeing it that evening she was upset, as everyone is. You see it and say: “Oh my god, is that my work? I knew I did better takes than that.” I spoke to her that evening and the next day, I saw her and said: “So how do you feel about the movie today?” And she said: “I feel much better. I’m twelve hours away from it. I’m a lot more objective.” I think she feels pretty good. And word of mouth is she did an incredible job.
M: So you’re the choreographer and director?
M: So where do you go from here?
V: Well I was about to do a project A Paramount film with Wilhelm Defoe but I heard he walked off the set, so I guess I’m not doing that. I don’t know. I’ll wait and see what happens. I would really like to get involved with this city (New York). I’d like to do some Broadway stuff. I’m real interested in directing. I love choreography but my visions are stronger than just movement. My background and training is as an actor. I trained as an an actor, even though I haven’t had any interest in it for about twelve years.
M: Have you been in any movies?
V: No. I never really cared to act in pictures. I wanted to learn the process because I always wanted to direct, and I figured that the best directors are really the ones that know what an actor needs to know and how to talk to an actor, and really dig and get comfortable enough that you can truly be their third eye, and truly be their director. Not so much dictate to them what has to be done, as assist them in finding their comfortableness in their own talent.
M: How long were the days of rehearsals?
V: Oh, long. I had no pre-production so I would take a song and listen to it at nighttime when I came home which was about eight-thirty till I went to bed and wake-up in the morning about six o’clock and then listen to the music and work things out in my living room. And then I go to the rehearsal studio and I was lucky if I had an hour by myself or an hour with one of the guys who assisted me on the shows, my assistant choreographer. And then everyone would be at my coattails just biting to learn the movement. So it was the first time I had to create with everybody in the room. We would do it from twelve o’clock until eight o’clock with no breaks. And then I would sort of wrap things up or have production meetings with the production staff about the sets, wardrobe. Madonna would go off to music rehearsal and I would go home to the next piece of music and start the process all over again. That was the three weeks in rehearsal studios. And then we had a sound stage at the Disney lot and we built the whole set and slowly put the show onto the stage which was a mammoth production because the set changes so often, it never stays the same. Those days were very long. We usually had some kind of dance rehearsal where I’d put the dancers on the stage and Madonna would work things out with all the mechanics of the set changes and then try to run through one or two songs, and each day, build a few more and then run that section and then onto the next and begin the process again. Finally, a week and a half later, we got to the point where we could run the show. And then we would come in and fine tune anything that had to be done. Two songs I changed completely. They would have some time to rehearse and, of course, mechanics and carpenter needed time. Everybody needed time. Everybody was screaming for time. We would usually run the show two times. One time and then take a little time… And I had no idea how exhausting the show was until we both decided she watch the show once while I ran through it. And I tell you man, by the fourth song, I like, did not want to come back. I was so dead. And then she said you get that second gust of wind and you just go for it, and it carries you. So that’s what happened. But it certainly gave me an appreciation of what she was doing and I’m sure it gave her a better appreciation of what I kind of put together with her, for her.
M: So what kind of diet or food are you guys into while on tour?
V: Madonna is a complete vegetarian. She’s been a vegetarian for fifteen years. And she has a cook that travels on the tour and cooks for her all the time. I’m pretty much a vegetarian. I eat a little fish and a little chicken, very little. It’s great. She has somebody who cooks. When it’s show time venues he cooks for anybody who wants to eat vegetarian. So they all eat incredible food if they choose to. A lot of these kids don’t even have that frame of reference.
M: ‘Looking for McDonalds?
V: (laughing) Exactly. She’s major. She gets up in the morning and does the Lifecycle machine, runs eight miles, does the reverse climber, and then goes and does the show. And she was following the same routine in L. A. when we ran the show twice. I mean she’s buffed.
M: Are you following the same regiment?
V: No. I don’t run. I used to run cross country in high school. That was enough for me. No. I walk about six miles a day, two hours non stop. When I’m back in L.A. I take class. I really like class. I mostly take ballet. I just find it’s great for technique, you keep your body aligned and your mind focused, and it’s sort of like meditation for me. Just to have that two hours working just with yourself, calms you down and centers you.
M: So why did I think you were going to be Black?
V: Everybody asks me that question. All my life when I grew up in Philly it was the black kids who always wanted to dance with me, and I don’t know, I’ve always had an affinity and a kinship with Black rhythm and having assisted Michael Peters for a long time, worked a lot with Michael Jackson, both as an artist; I was the white guy in Beat It — the knife fight guy… I don’t know. I don’t want to say I feel the spirit, but I’m very comfortable with the rhythms. I’m one of those cross-over-souls.
M: Aren’t most of the guys ethnic in the show?
V: Yeah. One kid is Chinese-American, three Blacks, one guys from Belgium and the other guys are Spanish-American.
M: Why does she pull such an ethnic mix? I noticed it on her Virgin Tour?
V: I don’t know, maybe because she likes the complement to her blond and white luminescent skin.
M: How do you go about pulling it all together?
VP: I have the freedom to use whoever I want. She had an idea of one guy, one of the youngest she wanted to use for Open Your Heart and two of the voguers. We wanted to give a special section to Vogue, but these guys are classically trained so the rest of it was completely open for discussion. “Well you know I think this guy will work better here,” or she’ll go: ‘Well I think maybe this guy here.” And that’s the way we work. It’s completely collaborative. I think that’s the only way to work, especially in the nineties. I mean there’s so much to know and everybody knows so much that to try to conceal the fact that you have knowledge, and to be afraid to give, is completely senseless, especially when you’re dealing with this level of performer. She has a lot of ideas and I want to carry out those ideas for her, but being on the inside, she doesn’t see how it can best be carried out. We have a lot of the same background. We both are Catholic, both grew up Catholic, we’re not Catholic now. I don’t know whether she is or not, but we had that background. We both came from lower middle class families. She had like eight kids in the family, we had five. And we both struggled to get where we were and what we do. Obviously things didn’t turn out the same way. A lot of the things she wanted to express for a long time, especially things about the church; things about role playing, sexual, role playing, what that means; whose in charge and who’s not in charge.
M: Is there a lot of disagreement between the two of you?
V: No, actually…
M: Didn’t you sometimes wish she’d change something or was it all just flowing so well?
V: Well you know we were under a major time pressure, we hooked so quickly and we spoke so much. We were always talking. We’d talk when she came back from music rehearsals. We talked in the morning before she got up to run while I was still working at home. So, we were always communicating. And the nice thing is when we knew something didn’t work, we knew it together. Like Into The Groove for instance. We worked on Into The Groove, it was in a certain groove. It didn’t excite either one of us extremely but it was there and we didn’t have enough time. So we just said, “Do it.” So I made it into this farce. It was kind of fun, crazy, extremely campy. When we got over to the stage and it became pan of the run of the show we both just one day looked at each other and said: “It doesn’t work,” at the same time. You know, you didn’t have to think about it, you knew. I knew it didn’t work from the outside and she knew it didn’t work from the inside. It wasn’t only the choreography. So what we did was, she sat down with the singers and the band and we put a new groove to it. It became something different. It all of a sudden had a bottom that it was lacking. The sound was a little dated, a couple years old and we wanted to bring it up to now. And all of a sudden when that changed, my whole perception of the piece changed. It went form something very cute and campy to something rougher edged. Things like that, but when you’re working that intimately with someone, you pretty much both know what’s going on, what’s not going on. What’s happening and what’s not happening. It’s pretty obvious. We still don’t know how some of the things will or what sort of reaction some the things will receive in the States because when you’re doing it for a Japanese audience — they’re Japanese, they don’t have American sensibilities and I was surprised they got as much out of the Church section as they did. They didn’t know who Dick Tracy is and they loved it. So I figured, at least the theatrics of the whole thing and the music works. So it will be really fun to bring it here because everything is geared to the American sensibilities. The jokes are American, American European; certainly they are not Oriental.
M: Why Japan first?
V: Money. It’s always good for an artist to go to Japan because they make a lot of money and they can get back what they put out for the tour, or at least a good chunk of it. And it was a good place to do a dress rehearsal. The weather was so horrendous in Tokyo. It rained all three nights. The third night it was like forty-five degrees, raining and the wind was so heavy that I didn’t let them bring in any of the drops. ‘We didn’t do the thing in costume. I let them wear their tour jackets, combat boots, double heavy tights and gloves. The rain was at least an inch thick on the stage and two kids got hurt, minorly, but it was just so slick and….she would stand on one said and be able to slide completely across the stage. She was making Dorothy Hamill jokes. It was horrendous. That was why I figured I don’t have to stay in Japan anymore. If they can do this under those condition and carry out this show. It was the first time breaking history in Japan by having the entire audiences in Tokyo on their feet, clapping and screaming the whole show which had never been done before, not even for Michael Jackson. I feel completely confident about the rest of the tour.
M: Where do your inspirations for dance come from?
V: Well, they come from everywhere. They come form all past histories of dance. From ritual stuff that I see in archives, and I go to a lot of foreign things, documentary films or National Geographic stuff, I love so much. All the Fred Astaire films and all his musicals I’ve always loved. Fashion runway stuff, to still photography and advertisements. Everywhere, real life… Sometimes reading a book; images in a book you can translate… and music. Probably all those wild drugs I did years ago (laughs) All the hallucinations I had that are like sort of back in the pocket somewhere; you hear something and it all comes to you. Whether it be dance movement or visual images or anything you want to say to an audience. I think as an artist you have to keep yourself open to everything because you never know where your inspiration will come from. And you never know how quickly you’re going to be called upon to delve into those hidden resources and that computer band and press in the date and bring it all up front. I just try to keep myself aware of everything. I’m seeing these plays while I’m here for a couple of days just to do it: Grand Hotel, City of Angels. I might like to see Phantom of the Opera again, just to watch it again. I was so overwhelmed the first time. You know kind of sit back and watch it…
M: When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?
V: I didn’t know I wanted to be a dancer. I had a girlfriend who was a dancer who was taking dance classes. At that time I wasn’t into musicals. I was just into directing theater. I was in my early twenties. We were having all these arguments because she was doing these dance performance and she wanted me to come and see them and I wasn’t interested.
M: What were you doing career wise at that time?
V: I was doing some theater in Arizona.
V: Yeah. Well I was doing a little bit of acting and trying to pull a theater club thing together. And then I went to see a little performance that she did at the university. I though it was really interesting. I thought maybe I should try this as exercise. Because being in the theater I wasn’t really that physically active. Although I had done a lot of mime and pantomime stuff and I explored that.
M: So you started doing more dance work?
V: Not really dance, more… the movement stuff that I would add into the pieces we did, I never really though of it as dance. I thought of it as acting without talking. And that’s what happened. I went to a class and this guy said I was too old to get involved in it if I wanted to take it seriously. So I went and studied with eleven and twelve year old girls ballet for two years. Then I got into a lot of little companies in Tuscon. And I got to, I really shouldn’t say choreograph, but I did choreography, truly experimental; it probably would be pretty hideous if I saw it now. But I had a lot of stage presence and a lot of knowledge so they wanted me to perform with them as a dancer, and they let me take classes for free. So that was sort of what I did. I struggled. I did that and I moved to L.A. and I danced, did a lot of television, and a lot of commercials. I toured with Shirley Maclaine. I was Barbara Mandrell’s partner on her series.
M: Which life of Shirley Maclaine’s?
V: (laughing) One that I don’t ever want to go back to.
M: Is she really that difficult?
V: We didn’t really get a long that well. I was a novice and I was a very hard worker. I think I was a bit in awe of her. And I don’t know what she had against me, but it didn’t work.
M: What was your resume? What got Madonna to pick you up?
V: Like I said, with madonna it happened by chance. Joe Pitca. I guess it was because I assisted Michael Peters a lot. People knew me and saw how I worked on a set.
M: There was no one work that you thought was a pivotal point?
V: Yes, I think the pivotal… I think what really changed everything for me was that I wrote and choreographed and edited Smooth Criminal for Michael Jackson. He came to me. I had only worked with him as a dancer and as an assistant but we got along really well. And after he did Bad he wanted to do Smooth Criminal and he came to me with the project and I had no idea why he was coming to me. I thought he wanted me to dance in the video. I came with a tape all prepared with the commercials and videos I had done and he said: “No. I want you to put it together for me. I’ve got to go back and finish the album, and I want you to do it!” So his original idea was that it was an all male club in tuxedos and the more I listened to the music the more I changed everything. So he gave me a soundstage and a set and let me keep on building as I went and extended the song from three minutes to ten, and keep adding characters, people and dancers. And I think that’s what changed everything. It certainly changed my perspective of my work. You always find yourself on a path but you don’t know where it’s leading or what’s happening to it. And there are certain situations that evolve that confirm your placement in your craft and that was the first. From that everyone sort of wanted to know who I was as a choreographer. As a dancer it was from Beat It.
M: Madonna suggested we talk with you. She seems to really be promoting you. Why is it?
V: I guess she probably feels the show is our creation, her on the inside, me on the outside; that I know the show as well as she knows the show, if not better. So I guess that was important that someone else give feedback about it. Madonna has been very gracious with situations like this. Michael is not so free with the press. And Madonna’s been very interested and supportive and prodding with me talking to the press. I usually don’t like to do publicity. My goal is not to become a public figure. My goal is just to be an artist who gets to really do the work.
M: Don’t you think public relations has become an art?
V: Yeah. That’s why I think I shy away from it because I think there are a lot of people that are in the limelight that become flavor of the month. And everyone jumps on the bandwagon to get them to work for them for that period of time. That’s not what my career’s about. That’s not what my interest as an artist is about. I’m interested in working on projects that I really like. And I don’t really care that that many people know who I am outside of the business. I have no interest in being a recognizable face. I just want to do my work.
M: What are your images of Madonna? impressions?
V: My images of Madonna? I just keep coming back to one word: artist. It’s the strongest and clearest description.
M: What about visually?
V: Oh, visually that’s part of being an artist. She’s not concerned with having to hook up with one picture that everyone has to hang on to, for fear of forgetting who she is or what she’s about. That’s part of the bravery. I think the visuals she creates are part of her art. My god, look at the visuals just this year. From what she looked like in Like A Prayer, what she looked like in Dick Tracy to what she looked like in Express Yourself. I mean every single time it’s different but it’s always Madonna. I think that’s one of the powerful artistic aspect that she has is the freedom to create all this, that takes balls.
M: As I’m editing pictures of her, sometimes I forget what period they’re from. I’m watching the videos and I say: Is this from the Virgin Tour? No, maybe this is….(both laugh)
V: I think she’s the most beautiful now than she’s ever been.
M: It seems like her voice has matured?
V: I think when she started her vocal career, she wasn’t that strong as a singer, it just kind of happened and she did it. She studies all the time. When you start to sing Sondheim you can’t be clicking around, you have to have some serious technique going on there. So, that’s why we pulled in some songs from her old albums and she said,: “I love these songs. I know how to sing them now, where before I sang them, now I can really perform them and can really sing them because my voice is so much stronger.” And it is; she sings all the way through the show and she doesn’t stop moving. You have to have technique to do that.
M: It seems like Vogue is a summation of her career to date?
V: Yeah and I think Keep It Together is a summation of her life. That’s the last piece of the entire show. I think that is what Madonna is all about. Keep It Together is what Madonna is about as a person. She’s about family, about having those people around her, and be on the same level as her. She knows little arguments ensue and that they’re all because and based on love and petty jealousies. And they all work themselves out. And it’s everybody working together and supporting each other, believing in each other and caring for each other when you have to. That seems to me to be the way she works and the closest to what she is as a real person.