Talented choreographer Alex Magno is back
on MadonnaTribe for another interesting chat about the making
of Madonna's Drowned World Tour from 2001.
With 2006 marking the fifth anniversary of that one of a
kind tour, we chat with Mr Magno about how he got to work
on his second Madonna tour and the great ideas and choreographies
that were put together with for this show, including never
before heard details about the deleted number "I
MadonnaTribe: Hi Alex,
welcome back to MadonnaTribe.
Let's talk about the Drowned World Tour this time. So
after the Girlie Show in 1993 did you expect Madonna to
go back on tour in 2001?
Alex Magno: I always knew Madonna
was going to go back. It was many years after the Girlie
show, 8 years more or less. Through those years I kept
close contact with her manager, we exchanged email, faxes,
calls etc... I would send in possible concepts for various
Mtv performances and things like that.
Then I was informed through the "grapewine"
she was going to do a big tour again, so along with my
assistant, we sit down not knowing if they had a concept
for the tour and who was directing or choreographing it
and we put down a whole concept naming it Metamorphosis
because we felt that Madonna is always changing.
We compared her to a muse, as a goddess, as a myth that
never dies. The whole concept also contained an Asian
section which by coincidence was one of the concepts that
Madonna and Jamie King, the director, had.
AM: So I sent the concept and they loved
it. That's what it got me in. I even mixed the music with
drum beating and I played to the manager. They were really
impressed with my package. However they already had a
concept going, the whole Drowned World idea.
So I got a call from my agent that told me that Jamie
King was directing and Madonna wanted me to do the auditions
for the dancers in Los Angeles and that audition was going
to serve also as an audition for me as a choregrapher.
She hasn't seen my work for 8 years so once again I had
to prove myself to Madonna (laughs).
I was a bit skeptical at first but then I said "just
humble yourself, just go and do it". They gave me
Frozen to do at the audition, they told me briefly the
concepts and I had a bunch of remixes of the song and
I made my own mix recutting the song for the audition.
Back in Brazil, the first thing I ever learned was Capuera
and then Karate so I put those back into the audition
and in the tour as well into the gheisha section. There
were later other auditions in Los Angeles with Madonna
there casting the dancers and looking at my work.
When all the dancers got casted I found out on a Friday
that I got the job and start rehearsing on Monday.
MT: There was no Japan in the middle
this time (laughs)
AM: No Japan in the middle (laughs), it
was the perfect timing, the stars and the moon everything
seemed to be in the right place. I was giving then a set
of numbers to coreograph by Jamie and Madonna.
I was very I happy I was giving "Frozen" but the
first number I started working on, believe it or not, was
I worked with my assistent, her being Madonna and I was
being her dancer.
Actually Madonna and the band were rehearsing the opening
number of the tour on the side, so I went to the corner
of the studio, got some mirrors and sort of created my own
private room and got a little boom box, cause I wasn't going
to wait for my time, I know how Madonna is and I want to
be head not behind. I could wait for my time but I said,
no, I want to be ahead because that's going to help it.
Yeah I completely iunderstand that.
AM: So I stared
choreographing "Nobody's Perfect" and at the end
of the day I had a number done. I showed it to the director
and then to Madonna and she loved it saying: "Tomorrow
I wanna learn it". So we had to pick a dancer among
the male dancers and we sort of "auditioned" them
because we needed to pick the best one for this huge role.
It was the role of a leading man for Madonna and she had
to be comfortable with him, kiss him and have sort of a
So Nito was the most capable because of his huge experience
in martial arts but he is also a street dancer so he walked
like a hip hop dancer would instead of walking like a Samurai.
So it took a while to work with him in a theatrical way
to get him away from that and trying to get him in a more
Japanese samurai attitude. He was the one that was the most
comfortable with the sword and the only problem was the
height. He was a little bit short so we gave him some really
high boots and he looked amazing. It was amazing the way
the number turned out. He was the perfect match with Madonna
and they were perfect for each other in that number. And
that was my first number.
On what other Drowned World Tour numbers did you
AM: After "Nobody's
Perfect", the second one I did was "Frozen".
Which also was one an amazing experience because that's
one of my favourite Madonna songs ever.
When I first heard "Frozen" I was speechless.
The imagery, the sound. It was so rich. It made me excited
about where Madonna was going, like soundwise and theatrically
and that's when I got excited about the possibility of working
with her again so when they gave "Frozen" to me
I was so blessed. I was so happy I had that gift. That's
the best gift you can give a choreographer, a music like
that with so many layers and so rich in rhythm, melody and
the poetry of the lyrics.
I was in heaven working with that piece.
MT: That is also
one of my favourite ones...
AM: And then "Sky
Fits Heaven" was a collaboration of 4 different choreographers
including myself because you can see how huge that number
was. It took two weeks to do it while normally a number
takes you two days, but Madonna had to fly and she had to
We had to choreograph the people that lifted the ropes.
Everything was done organically and everything had to be
perfectly timed. There was no space for a mistake. It was
done by manpower so that made the stakes even higher. There
was so many things happening at the same time on top of
the video that was so overwhelming. So it had to had more
than one person to choreograph it.
Then I did "La Isla Bonita". Madonna wanted it
to have a sort of "Evita" look.
Basically the show was broken into 3 segments. The
first one was the Rock 'n' Roll one. In that segment I did
"Candy Perfume Girl" and "Beautiful Stranger".
In the Gheisha segment I did "Frozen", parts of
"Sky Fits Heaven". I did the whole "What
It Feels Like For A Girl" choreography. I did "Open
Your Heart" and "Nobody's Perfect". And of
course all this is a collaboration with the director and
Madonna in terms of what they want.
MT: Did you have immediately the feeling this show
was going to be different from other ones?
Everyone refers to it as dark, but it's even more than that...
I think it's avantgarde. It's interesting. Madonna was very
daring to do a tour with a set list of songs, with the exception
of "Holiday", "La Isla Bonita" and maybe
"Music", that people didn't know.
Her fans knew them but they weren't her top popular songs.
But this is the power of an artist that says: You know what?
I'm going to give light to these songs and I will do it
by giving them a visual re-birth".
MT: Yes, that was really cool...
Madonna came up with the concept and
came up with things that fit the songs and that made people
understand the music, because I think people didn't understand
some of the songs.
You could have only understand the music after you saw the
images and the performance. It gave a whole new meaning
to the song. And then boom, people got it and went out buying
the cd. She is also an amazing business woman. I don't think
she calculated that but that's what happened. And besides
that she was like: "I'm not going to be set on trends,
I'm going to make this work and people will follow me".
That's what she did.
Everybody was like: "it's so dark". But if there's
one person who can do it and can get away with it is Madonna.
Any other artist would probably fell miserably but Madonna
was able to make a success out of it.
was a success in all ways, not only artistically but economically
even if it's the most avantgarde and edgy compared to her
other shows. It's dark but it's a different dark from "The
Beast Within" from The Girlie Show, or "Sex".
The Girlie Show had a dark side to it but this was different
because you couldn't define the darkness of Drowned World
and for the lack of words the only definition that comes
to mind is avant guard. It's so like art theatre.
MT: And it was also reflecting the new Madonna
AM: Yes, that's the profound Madonna, the
mother, the Golden Globe winner for "Evita", she
learned how to play guitar. She was really a completely
different person from the previous tour and the show reflected
that. And speaking about "Evita", I loved choregraphing
the tango piece on "Don't Cry For Me Argentina".
It was a dance break and the dancers were breathless there.
MT: Is there any number from Drowned World
tour that originally had choreographies or ideas, that did
not end up in the final show?
AM: Yes (Laughs).
In "Candy Perfume Girl" my original idea was to
have this crazy guy, this menacing character, played by
Anthony the dancer, to have broken dolls, pieces of dolls,
heads, legs, inside of his backpack. He was sort of a doll
maker and as he turns the heads of the dolls, Tamara, the
female dancer of the number would turn her head or would
contorse sort of like Tamara and the doll are the same.
I wanted to put him on a moving platform where he first
assembles the doll and then the platform would start moving
closer to where Tamara is on stage. He would drop the doll
and go where Tamara is and kill her. So it was a concept
about a crazy killer that stalks strippers. When we showed
to Madonna she freaked out (Laughs).
AM: Yes, well the prop guy instead of giving
me a doll with no face, he gave me a doll that looked like
a three year old girl. But Madonna wanted to see it and
I told her that it was not the right prop and it wasn't
going to look right. But she insisted.
So I played Anthony and I just showed roughly what he would
be doing. When I showed it to her she freaked out because
she is a mum and told me I was a pervert (laughs). It was
funny and everybody laughed and made fun of me. And it obviously
didn't end up in the tour but nevertheless the idea is still
there as we were able to use some of the stuff, like the
backpack, the glove, etc.
MT: Was Madonna different during Drowned World
Tour rehearsals? She was indeed a mother this time.
AM: For this tour she was very in touch
with people's emotions and feelings. Still very perfectionist
and hard worker but much more nurturing. She was a mum and
a wife. She was split between her family and the musicians
so we didn't have Madonna as much as in the Girlie Show.
We had a limited time with Madonna. So we have to use her
time the best way. Kelly, my assistent would play her part
and then Jamie King would be there to watch and make sure
everything was working according to Madonna's notes. Then
Madonna would come in and say what she didn't like and what
had to be changed.
MT: Did you happen to work on songs that
were never used in the final set list? It has happened in
AM: Yes, actually the was one song
that they wanted me to choreograph and that didn't make
the final show.
It was "I Want You".
Madonna was supposed to wear this beautiful dress and she
was supposed to be on a stage that moved over the audience
and they took the idea out because it was going to cost
too much money and she was going to loose a big part of
the audience so they cut that out.
It was going to be a really beautiful, statuesque number,
with limited amount of movement but very grand, beautiful
movement with a wind machine blowing.
It was really a great concept.
MT: Well in a way it reminds of the "Lo
Que Siente La Mujer" number...
AM: Oh there's an interesting story about
They gave me the music one night and they said "it
must be done for tomorrow". They gave me the cd with
the Calderone remix which is in English. So the original
piece I choreographed was done using the English version,
they didn't have the Spanish version yet.
I was told Madonna wanted it to be a hot number with all
the girls and herself.
I've been explained that they had this huge set opening
up like a flower. They gave me a mock up to work with and
so I went to the Sony studios in the middle of the night
and brought in five of my dancers, not from the tour, and
my assistant to play the parts. So we worked till 3 o'clock
in morning. Then at 10 o'clock we showed the choreography
to Jamie. He liked it and then I started teaching the dancers.
Then Madonna came in to watch and she was like: NO WAY!
The number was amazing but she didn't want anything like
that. "I don't want my girls to look like hookers".
She just didn't want that vision she said: "I did that
already and I want something else".
So that's how the girls ended up being more "boy-like".
We changed it and made everything more statuesque, more
posing. So that's what the number ended up being. Originally
it was 300% much more dance and movement than what we did
but I actually like the final version better.
MT: That was awesome really...
AM: I actually like what it ended up being
and this shows that Madonna knows what she's talking about.
It could go wrong but actually it ended up being one of
the best numbers because it brings the audience closer.
That whole act is a lot intimate. I come from Brazil and
back there we do jam sessions everywhere, in the family
we play drums with the table or play whatever you have in
the house and people dance in the middle.
When we talked about ideas for "La Isla Bonita"
I played for the percussionist something like that, to make
it look sort of MTV unplugged, the musicians come around,
something that breaks the rules and brings the audience
closer to them. And they liked the idea and they went for
that. And for "La Isla Bonita", Anthony ended
up being the only person dancing but originally I wanted
to have other dancers also. But again Madonna was highlighting
each dancer and if you remember, each of them had a solo.
Pretty much in Drowned World Tour each dancer had a moment
in which they were in the spotlight.
MT: And what about
Donna and Nikki, you already worked with them in the Girlie
AM: Oh Nikki and Donna, they were really
great. They were wonderful.
MT: And you worked with Donna DeLory on
her video "Just A Dream"...
AM: You are right, my relationship with
Donna came before I worked with Madonna on the Girlie tour.
It's interesting because I did the music video with Donna
prior to working with Madonna, so when Madonna mentioned
my name to the dancers and to Donna, she already knew who
I was and said: "Oh yes Alex he's great" (Laughs).
She used to train with me and I choreographed her music
video for her single "Just A Dream". We shot it
in Australia for a week and I brought in two dancers. It
was a great music video, just the three of them on the beach,
in the sand. It was really gorgeous. So I know Donna for
a long time.
I didn't meet Nikki until I worked on the
Girlie Tour and I was really happy to see them again on
the Drowned World Tour. I just feel that they are like the
strong pole for Madonna. They serve as a great supporters
for her, emotionally, artistically and I feel that the show
sort of loses its essence when they are not there. Not Madonna,
because she CAN hold the stage by herself, she doesn't need
anybody else but the show does lose if they are not there,
in the sense they that they are so much part of Madonna's
career, professionally speaking, that if they are not there
something is missing and you really miss them.
Well they were also a sort of tie between Madonna and the
fans during the tours.
AM: Yes absolutely.
Alex did you have the chance to see her latest tour, re-
AM: No, unfortunately I didn't have a
But I was very happy when Liz Imperio, which is a great
friend of mine, was chosen to do some choreographies.
It was a great choice to pick her up. Because with Madonna
you need a choreographer that understands not just one
style of dance and Liz is the perfect choice.
She knows how to do everything.
There's nothing that she cannot do.
And I was very happy to know she worked on the tour. She
was an amazing asset of that tour for that tour and I'm
sure her work was amazing. I actually saw some of the
rehearsals and the little bit I saw what really good.
MT: Yes it was a really great show.
AM: Yes I'm sure it was.
I was able to attend rehearsals one day and Jamie told
me a little bit about the tour. He showed me the set and
the whole thing and it looked really amazing.
And I had a chance to talk to Madonna also and again she
seemed to be at a completely different level. We are talking
She is continuously evolving. I was very pleased to see
MT: And what about your own evolution?
AM: Since the Drowned World Tour anything
happened. I went to film school and graduated from there
as a film director and I directed short films. I'm developing
a film that is loosely based on my life. The screenplay
is done and there are already producers that are interested
in possibily producing it so I'm very excited about that.
In 2006 I will be doing also a huge project for the Lincoln
Center with 18 piece orchestra.
The piece is called Paladion Nights. I'm directing and
choreographing that among other things that are coming
Oh great. Ok Alex, now to wrap up this chat here's a tough
question maybe. How has working with Madonna changed your
AM: Well, once you work with Madonna herself it
has a huge impact in your life. It really changes your prospect
of working with people and your prospect of dealing with
pressure. It just changes you. It just makes you a better
artist in the long run.
That's what happens.
In the outcome of those two tours that I done with Madonna
this is what I learned. First of all to push the envelope,
to be unique and to work under pressure above all. Not because
she is Madonna, you put that in yourself too. You want to
do the work that levels the star, the muse and that's not
an easy thing to do. She has done everything and it's then
hard for you to come up with something unique that has not
been done and that fits her.
There are days that you don't like but there is always the
next day, the sun is always going to rise the next day.
So if you keep that in mind and you don't let a bad day
destroy the rest of your life then you'll be fine, working
with her or with any other artist. So basically that's what
I learned from her, that's what she taught me in the long
Alex, it was a pleasure to have you here at MadonnaTribe
to talk about these great Madonna tours. Thanks a lot.
to you for having me, it's been great.
for Part One of this interview
where Alex talks to MadonnaTribe about his work in the Girlie