Going Gaga for Laurieann Gibson

Last week, news broke that long-time Lady Gaga collaborator Laurieann Gibson was fired. The reasons have yet to be officially announced and we'll never know the whole truth. Some reports say she was fired for comments on Twitter defending her work. Others say she was fired for expressing negative opinions on the set. Others say that she magically transformed into an uncompromising diva stereotype because she got her own reality TV show. I believe that a combination of these factors might have resulted in Gibson's replacement. While I'm not ready to sound the death knell for Lady Gaga's career because of this, I would be foolish not to point out how influential Gibson's choreography and conception of Gaga has been on Lady Gaga's success. I've read some write-ups of the news that suggested Gibson contributed nothing memorable or iconic to Gaga's artistic identity. That's a seriously short-sighted view of the influence of Gaga's only choreographer as a dance act. It's even more short-sighted when you realize that Lady Gaga is not a particularly gifted dancer.

The most iconic choreography is seen in the "Bad Romance" video. No one performs "Bad Romance" in the original style without the broken down unnatural looking choreography.

Yeah, you could argue that someone played a Silent Hill game and decided that the nurses would be a great source of choreography for a less than graceful dancer. I'd even buy that as an influence on the look of "Bad Romance" (by intention or cultural osmosis).

However, if this monstrous movement style works only because of the content of "Bad Romance" where it gained its notoriety, how is it that it first debuted on Gaga's debut video "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich."

Laurieann Gibson, when she did her one season stint on So You Think You Can Dance?, has been categorized as a pop-jazz choreographer. Jazz, as a modern dance genre, is the visual language of such iconic musicals as West Side Story and Damn Yankees. It was the bread and butter of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, and Gwen Verdon, among other iconic choreographers and dancers. It's a mix of dance styles that incorporates elements of early 1900s dance club styles, Afro-Carribbean influences, and tap. The choreography involves smooth progression through seemingly erratic movements.

Notice the arm and leg movements, the bends at the waist, and the painful looking flashy moves that can cause real damage if you do them wrong. Please note, before we continue, that I am not claiming Laurieann Gibson or Lady Gaga is anywhere near top of their game Bob Fosse or Gwen Verdon. This was a purely visual reference.

The difference between what's considered Jazz or Pop-Jazz and what Lady Gaga/Laurieann Gibson worked on is the fluidity of movement. Gaga's style is disjointed and built mostly on body positions and upper body movement. Sometimes, this is to handle the weight and structure of her costumes. Other times, it's seemingly to compensate with a clearly identifiable "Gaga" quality about her videos.

Laurie Ann Gibson choreographed the music video for the Lady Gaga/Beyonce collaboration "Telephone." One thing that has always struck me about the video is how different Gaga and Beyonce look while doing the exact same choreography. Beyonce can't help but make the sharp body positions flow together while Gaga hits each one as a separate entity. Gaga's body positions are also a whole lot softer than Beyonce even when she brings a more traditional technique to the choreography. This portion happens around the 7:30 mark on the video.

This is another opportunity to point out another recurring choreography element in the video ouevre of Lady Gaga: the large group of background dancers. Lady Gaga is very rarely doing the same moves as everyone else onscreen. This is an intentional device to make it seem like she's doing a whole lot more dancing than she actually is. It also draws the focus to Gaga even while more talented dancers perform behind her. It's particularly evident in "Love Game," also choreographed by Gibson.

Three very different videos that feature relatively the same vocabulary of movement. There are two big connecting factors: Gibson and Gaga. And guess what? They make each other look good. Gaga sells the choreography with her performance, while Gibson makes Gaga look good by playing to her strengths.

Some have predicted that Laurieann Gibson's career is going to take a downturn because of this. Others have predicted Lady Gaga will suffer. I don't think either will be hurt that badly. Gibson has been doing great work for six years with high profile artists. Despite a reality TV created impression that she's some kind of choreographing tyrant, her teaching demeanor--even when screaming or reading her dancers--is tame compared to some high profile choreographers. The horror stories I've heard about Adam Shankman's rehearsal room demeanor make Laurieann Gibson look like a cranky child by comparison.

Choreographers have very little time to get the moves into the performers' bodies. Everything needs to be taught right the first time because rechoreographing is a nightmare. It's all about muscle memory and it's hard to retrain the body once it gets the idea wrong.

The real sign of a great choreographer is the ability to work to an artist's strength. Laurie Ann Gibson has made Lady Gaga look fantastic for three years. Even as Gaga's image changed by the day, her movement vocabulary and stage performances were collaborations between Gibson, Gaga, and her set/costume designers. Losing Gibson will undoubtedly push Gaga in a new direction as a new choreographer will bring a new style of movement. We'll see what happens with that.


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