MadonnaTribe 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
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
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
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
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 the number.
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
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 the cape!
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
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 so far?
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
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
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.
This interview © 2007 MadonnaTribe.