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Vincent Paterson on Blond Ambition Tour, Vogue, Madonna : U Magazine

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.

Vincent Paterson on Madonna - U Magazine / 1990

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.