Lady Gaga's Lead Choreographer Looks Back on 7 Iconic Videos
If you've gone gaga for Lady Gaga's elaborate and out-there music videos, you've probably admired Richy Jackson's work. Jackson has been by Lady Gaga's side for almost a decade, and since late 2011, he's been the superstar's lead choreographer and visual director. (Jackson has also worked with other artists like Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Meghan Trainor, and on various commercial gigs.) Here, he opens up about his inspirations, challenges and favorite memories from seven iconic Lady Gaga videos.
"Just Dance" (2008)
"My first impression of Lady Gaga was that she's a force of nature. She was something pop music hadn't experienced yet. I immediately loved the conviction she has about her craft and artistry; she knows what she wants. 'Just Dance' was mostly freestyle, rather than fully choreographed. So, on top of dancing in the video, my job was to be there for Gaga if she had questions, to work with the background talent and the lead extras, and to help the director set up some of the shots."
"Bad Romance" (2009)
"This is one of my favorite videos of all time! 'Bad Romance' has such a cool vampire-esque brothel vibe. One of the great things about working with Gaga is that we get to try different aesthetics all the time. It's never one lane or one approach. I listened to the song, and I immediately knew how we should be moving. The choreography just poured out."
"Having Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in one room was phenomenal. Beyoncé learned the routine on set; I had her for an hour, and then we had to shoot it. I tried to inspire her: 'You and Gaga have just killed a diner full of people, and now we're gonna dance. Go into this routine with that intent, and it'll make sense.' They looked so great together. I loved their energy, those dancers, that diner—it was timeless."
"Near the opening of 'Alejandro,' there's a group of guys at the top of a hill, in silhouette, and the idea was to make them move down it in about 32 counts. I had to choreograph that section on set. Imagine a roomful of people watching, and they say, 'You have 10 minutes!' "
"Born This Way" (2011)
"In 'Born This Way,' it was less about pop music's sexiness, and more about making a statement. The dance had to go somewhere else. We had to stretch. So, you'll spot some jazz and modern in there, along with the sexy pop tone."
"We shot 'G.U.Y.' at Hearst Castle in California. That shoot was supposed to be two days, but it turned into five or six. The first few days, the property was closed for us, but on the extra days, there were tourists there. We had tons of dancers bussed in, synchronized swimmers and the venue had certain limits—and yet the hardest part was stopping tourists from taking pictures while we were shooting."
"John Wayne" (2017)
"'John Wayne' has a girl section, a boy section and a couples section where they're literally dancing on each other. To me, that song is rough, rugged and jagged, so I thought, the couples' choreography needs to be rougher and tougher than you usually see. The girls hop on the guys' backs and control them. The choreography extends not only the message of the song, but also the way it feels."
Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.
In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.