MadonnaTribe has had the pleasure to meet
choreographer RJ Durell who joined the Confessions
Tour creative team and contributed his talent to the
amazing Erotica, La Isla Bonita
and Lucky Star numbers.
RJ talks about his personal story of a natual born dancer
in Michigan and how he ended up working with some of the artists
who are making history in pop culture and show business, setting
very ambitious and
specific goals for himself as a child and being completely
focused on turning his desires into reality.
And now... MadonnaTribe meets RJ
MadonnaTribe: Hello RJ and
welcome to Madonna Tribe. As many choreographers, you are
also a talented dancer and worked in many different fields
of the show business, from movies to tv shows, commercials
and stage shows. Can you tell us about how all it started
for you, your studies, and how you feel having achieved
so many excting experiences in your career so far?
RJ Durell: I always danced and was always
going to be a dancer. My mother was my dance teacher in
Grand Rapids Michigan where I grew up. She owns a studio
there called The Moving Company. I practically
lived there until I started branching out and studying in
New York City at the age of 15 at the School of American
After spending a few summers at in New York I new that I
wanted something different for myself. A few weeks after
my 18th birthday I came out to LA to study on scholarship
at the Edge. I trained in all disciplines of dance while
on scholarship for one year after which I got an agent and
started auditioning. It is weird, on one had my life has
happened just as I have planned it, then on the other I
can hardly believe all the places I have seen, people I
have met, and dreams that I have achieved. I must say that
I truly feel blessed and give thanks each day for the life
that I live.
MT: When you decided
you wanted to submit ideas and choreographies to Madonna
for the Confessions Tour, the first thing you did
was "studying disco".
By watching footage from Saturday Night Fever to
Madonna's own tours what were the first ideas that came
to mind to reinvent the disco style?
RJ: The first ideas I had for Madonna are
on the submission. I only had two days to put the submission
together and was choreographing a commercial at the time
for Fruit of the Loom. I had to follow my instincts.
Many of the ideas I submitted for Madonna actually made
it to the stage in Erotica. I knew that I had to
be true to disco while re-inventing it at the same time
for Madonna. I wanted for the number to be sensual, picturesque,
and breathtaking. The rest unfolded along the way.
When you were approached for contributing to the tour choreographies
your were asked to work on a song that did not make the final
setlist. Your work eventually ended up as part of the Erotica
choreography, but what do you remember about that day you
were asked to set up something for Deeper and Deeper?
RJ: When I called my agent about making the
submission for the Confessions Tour his instructions
were to submit a disco partnering routine to Deeper and
Deeper one minute in length. Once I booked the tour I
was given about four days to prepare my number before I would
present it to Madonna. At that time I was given the song Erotica.
By the time that I was brought in it had already been decided
to use Erotica for the tour.
MT: You worked in a lot of different
productions as a lead dancer so you can easily tell what brings
to an artist a "lead quality". We love all the Madonna
dancers but I have to say Jason Young was really breathtaking
dancing with Madonna in Erotica.
How was working with him?
RJ: Jason Young is an amazing dancer. We
had worked together before the Confessions Tour and
I was happy to have him on board. He is diverse and magnetic
and an absolute pleasure to work with. I would love to work
with him again.
Another number you choreographed in the show, La Isla
Bonita, also ended up replacing a song previously in
the set list, Everybody.
That was actually quite a surprise - Madonna performed
Everybody already during the promo mini-concerts
for Confessions On A Dance Floor at the Koko club
and at the G-A-Y gig, and again at the Coachella festival
that was somehow a "warm up" for the live show.
Many fans thought it was a secure bet for inclusion on the
final setlist, but plans changed quite at a late stage.
Did you have a feeling about the reason for La Isla Bonita
was eventually picked up as the number to follow Erotica?
RJ: In all honesty I have no idea why the
change was made. Originally I was brought in to do Erotica
only. I rehearsed and set the number as planned. The morning
after I finished setting Erotica I got a phone that
there had been some changes going on and could I come down
to rehearsal early to work on another number. It was thrilling
for me, like booking the job all over again.
When I arrived at rehearsal I was given the track to La
Isla Bonita and asked to go prep the number. Later that
day Jamie, Tone, Rich and I started to put the number together
to La Isla Bonita.
I was never given any explanation, nor did I ask. I was merely
happy to be working on a second number for the tour.
MT: La Isla Bonita is a number full of energy
and fun. How was working on that number and which were your
main sources of inspiration for its choreography?
RJ: I mainly worked on the ramp choreo-graphy
when Madonna comes down with the dancers towards the end of
I wanted to create something fun and light-hearted, as if
we were transported to an island where fantasy and love rule.
I used the feeling of the islands as my source of inspiration
for my work on this number.
All the songs you choreographed in the tour were major Madonna
classics while the most of the show was heavily based on the
latest Madonna album. What do you think about Confessions
On A Dance Floor?
RJ: I LOVED the album. Madonna has
a way of creating music that pushes beyond what other artists
are making. I found the album electric and inspiring. As a
matter a fact, when the album first came out I would choreograph
to the song Jump and imagine as if I were brought
on to choreograph for the tour. A few months later I saw my
opportunity and pounced.
And how would you describe your relationship with Madonna
and her music before you worked with her? Did you have a chance
to meet her before, did you attend her previous tours?
RJ: I have always been a fan of Madonna and her music.
Growing up in Michigan she was a huge inspiration for me in
achieving my dreams. Somehow I felt that if she could do it
I could do it. Being a dancer her music was always a favorite
of mine. I had seen most of her tours on dvd.
The Confessions Tour was the first tour that I saw
live. It was so exhilarating to see Madonna live coupled with
seeing my choreography on that massive of a scale.
MT: One of the reasons that made Lucky
Star - the third song you worked on - a very special
number is that the audience was finally able to get in touch
a little closer with Madonna's backing singers.
It's a long long story of love between the fans and Donna
De Lory and was love at first sight with the cool Nicki Richards.
How was working with them on Lucky Star?
and Donna were remarkable to work with. It was incredible
to build a number for Madonna and her signers. Lucky Star
gave me a chance to create something more intimate for her
fans. Nicki and Donna were very focused and worked intensely
in order to get the number down, and in the end I think they
did a superb job with the movement. Plus I got to work with
And how was working with all the great "Madonna family",
with Jamie King, the band, the crew, the management, all
the talented dancers and everybody?
In every way this job was a dream come true for me. I studied
the amazingly talented people around so that I could be
at my best. and found every single person there an inspiration.
This job is a moment in my life that I will never forget.
MT: Did you happen to watch the final show
among the fans in some of the venues? And did you follow
Madonna on tour to assist her on the road?
I did watch a few of the shows on the road
and it loved it. Each and every time I saw the show it would
reconnect me to the exhilaration of working on a tour of
such amazing caliber. Nothing beats hearing the fans cheer
and scream as Madonna dances my choreography. I would leave
each concert feeling elated, soaring among the stars.
You had the chance to work as a dancer with many top choreographers
and legends of the live show history, to feature in great
films like Rent just to mention one, and you are now looking
forward to a choreography career, and you're not even 30
by now. How does it feel to be moving ahead so fast, and
how different is to work in each and every role you had
RJ: I had set very
ambitious and specific goals for myself as a child. In many
ways I have been completely focused on turning my desires
into reality. Each time that I take another step upward
and achieve a new success in my career I feel thankful.
I love what I do. I love dance. I love entertainment. Sometimes
I can loose sight and get overwhelmed with all things that
I still want to accomplish rather than putting my attention
to all that I have done. When that happens I remind myself
that there is nothing but time and that if I continue to
focus and work hard I can achieve anything.
I get excited thinking of all the wonderful things that I
want to create. I hope to make a powerful mark on the world
through my choreography. I feel honored and blessed to live
this life full of excitement and dreams fulfilled.
MT: Madonna, Cher, Destiny's
Child, Macy Gray, Toni Braxton, Britney Spears, Will Smith
and Ricky Martin are only a few among the recording artists
you have worked with in music videos and award shows.
Is there an artist or a performance you cherish the most?
RJ: The most exciting performance for me
as a dancer was Britney Spears' Slave 4 U at the
MTV VMAs. It was at the hight of Britney's career, the song
was hot, the choreography was hot and I had an amazing time
performing with my friends in New York. There was such hype
at that time about the VMAs, it was just fun to party and
soak in the atmosphere.
MT: And would you say there was something that make
your Madonna experience special?
RJ: For me, everything about the experience of working
with Madonna was special. What made makes me unique on the
Confessions tour is that I was brought in at the
last minuet as a first time choreographer for Madonna.
Originally I was brought on to do Erotica only and
I ended up Choreographing for three of the numbers.
MT: What are you currently working on, and
what's next from RJ Durell in the near future?
RJ: Most recently I have choreographed an episode
of Cold Case for CBS called Shuffle Ball Change and
a movie Ironman with Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey
I am work-shopping a new show for Vegas and have conceived
two movie musicals.
I am in the process of meeting with producers and attaining
the funding to direct and choreograph these projects.
Movie musicals have always been a huge inspiration for me
and I would love to bring my vision to the big screen.
And here's our "classic" closing question we ask
all our guests. What is the fondest memory of Madonna you
RJ: Working with her!!!!!!
MT: Thank you so much RJ for spending some quality
time with our readers and for giving us so many exciting
feeling on the Confessions Tour with your choreographies.
All the best for what's coming up!
RJ: Thank you and all my best.
For more about
RJ Durell - including his original choreography submission
for Deeper and Deeper please check
RJ portraits courtesy of RJ Durell.
Photographs from the Confessions Tour by Madonna
Tribe. All Rights Reserved.
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