It's been 25 years since Madonna released her documentary film In Bed With Madonna, which profiled the star on and off stage during her legendary Blond Ambition Tour of 1990.
The film also shone a spotlight on her troupe of mostly gay dancers, whose presence in her life and on her stage preached a powerful message of acceptance to her huge mainstream fan base.
Attitude has taken the opportunity to catch up with five of them. Yesterday we caught up with Slam, and in this interview with Kevin, he discusses why he almost turned the original gig down, and how a lawsuit he took against Madonna after the film has been totally misunderstood.
What did you think of Strike A Pose when you saw it for the first time? I gained more respect and love for my fellow companions than I even had before. I really fell in love with them all over again, and got to see a side of them. You know when you think you know somebody, and you don’t? I gained a new found love for them.
What was going on in your life when you got picked up for the Blond Ambition Tour?
I had come back to the U.S. after going to school in Singapore, and my life had been very academic. I had no money, and I had no plans. I started dancing for the fun of it. I had a really rough summer, I couldn’t afford anything, and I wasn’t even eating.
You then managed to land one of the biggest gigs in showbiz...
Well yeah, but the truth is I didn’t really know how big of a job I’d landed, honestly. I’d never really followed Madonna, I was more alternative rock. So I didn’t realise how famous or popular she was. I almost turned her down! I had other commitments. She negotiated my contract with me in person on the set of the ‘Vogue’ video, in between takes. She was like, ‘So you wanna go on tour with me?’ and I was like ‘Maybe, I’ll have to get back to you’. She was shocked! She said ‘What! What have you got?’ and I said, ‘Well I’m doing something with a woman I really like, called Marguerite’, and she was like ‘Fuck Marguerite!’
You were hired as an associate choreographer. What did that entail?
Well the overall choreography for the show was all Vincent Patterson, and I guess in my role, I was sort of the muse. I had a really broad vocabulary across many different styles. He had his own sort of language, and then I gave him all my steps. So a lot of the steps are mine, but how they were put together, that was all him. There’s really no one else to give credit to.
Did you have any idea of how big 'Vogue' would become?
No, not at all. I’d never seen a big tour or anything, I didn’t have any sense of how important it was, or what impact it was going to have. I learned over time, through watching her navigate the landscape of controversy and scandal, that people have very visceral responses to these sort of images, even though they seemed so innocuous to me.
What was your highlight of the tour?
I always go back to Houston, our first date back in the U.S. We had just done Japan, where they were very quiet and polite, and it rained. But we got to Houston... and it was insanity. The moment where the lights went out, they screamed for 10 minutes straight and we could not hear the music to start the show! That was the moment I realised how big a deal it was, and how famous she was. I’d never seen such a cult of personality before in my life.
When In Bed With Madonna came out, you were one of three dancers who took up a lawsuit against Madonna and the producers. It's believed that this was over how you had been portrayed. Is that correct?
Well that’s not even true. Legally, the terms they used sound like that, because it was the legal basis we used to pursue our claim. But for Oliver and I, it was literally just our contracts. There was a clause in the contract for the movie, and she didn’t want to pay it. It was unfortunate that all of us filed suit together, but we were all with the same agency, and that was why. Gabriel’s issues were with information that he didn’t want being in the movie. He had been told specifically that anything he did not want in the film would not be in the film. He had one request: don’t put that kiss between me and Slam in the movie. And they put it in the movie. For him, he didn’t want to be used as a gay statement. He just wanted to live his life in peace and quiet and live it on his own terms. [Gabriel passed away from AIDS in 1995]
Were you happy with being presented as gay?
For me, I wasn’t out. I didn’t really know what it was to be gay at that time. So when she started promoting it as ‘Madonna and her gay dancers’, I was thinking, ‘Well maybe I am gay’. It kind of took all the guess work out of it for me. But I didn’t say in my suit that she forcibly outed me or anything. It was just a contractual thing.
You mention that Madonna did forge something of a ‘gay statement’ out of the documentary. With hindsight, do you see that as something positive, the way she celebrated the gay community?
Well I guess it felt like we were stereotypes in the film – a gay sensationalist entourage - and we weren’t shown as humans, but I get it. I don’t mind it. I think over time, I’ve come to realise the impact of it, and how it really has saved people’s lives. People got to see us just being ourselves and it just so happened that we were gay. It gave hope to so many people. There’s no way I could feel bad about what we did, or regretful about what we did, because it had such a positive impact on so many people. Isn’t that all we could hope for in our lives?
What have you enjoyed in Madonna’s career since then?
I’ve enjoyed seeing her have a family. She really wanted a family, and she was heartfelt about that, and she opened up with us on the tour about it. It really made me glow, knowing that she has a family now.
In the years since, you’ve worked with stars like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. I wonder what you feel the difference is between Madonna and this new set of contemporaries?
Gaga particularly, works harder than anybody. I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as Gaga. I don’t know if Madonna could keep up with that. Madonna is a different era, a different realm. She goes away, takes a moment, regroups and presents an idea. Gaga is like a daily idea. The scale and pace of what these younger kids have to go through now is crazier than what Madonna had to go through, and now she doesn’t have to. Most of these stars also don’t have the control over their careers that Madonna had; the freedom she was allowed. It’s just not allowed now.