Pop Culture

Lady Gaga's Lead Choreographer Looks Back on 7 Iconic Videos

Lady Gaga's lead choreographer Richy Jackson. Photo by Karen Bystedt, Courtesy Schmooze PR.

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."

"Telephone" (2010)

"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."

"Alejandro" (2010)

"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."

"G.U.Y." (2014)

"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."

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox