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."
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.