Checking in on Madonna’s Blond Ambition dancers 25 years later, this Dutch documentary looks at what happens once the performance high is over and the celebrity bubble pops.
Remember when Madonna used to be playful and fierce, and her iconoclastic performance stunts were about pop provocation and spectacular chutzpah, not just frantic bids to stay relevant? The apotheosis of those golden years was the 1990 Blond Ambition Tour, which scandalized the conservative world with its juxtaposition of sex and religion, not to mention birthed the fashion flourish of the Gaultier cone bra. The tour was chronicled in Alek Keshishian’s juicy documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare, which featured the boss exchanging pillow talk with her beauteous multihued harem of seven young male dancers.
So what’s left to consider in another doc that revisits those erstwhile voguing peacocks a quarter-century down the line? It turns out quite a bit in the slender but sweet Strike a Pose, co-directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan. While it becomes slightly padded and a tad repetitious in the eventual reunion of the six surviving dancers, the smartly assembled film makes points that resonate in a world where fame is increasingly ephemeral and life after the celebrity window closes can get awfully cold. It’s a 21st century take on A Chorus Line that examines what comes after rather than before the euphoria of being chosen.
The modest but absorbing film should find a receptive audience keen on gay and pop-cultural programming at festivals as well as on streaming platforms and television. It also taps into recent renewed interest in voguing, as seen in the Sundance premiere Kiki, which also screened in Berlin’s Panorama Documentary section.
At heart, Strike a Pose is a story of orphaned children, who were barely into their 20s when they traveled the world, giving fabulous face and killer attitude with a stratospherically famous surrogate mother who banished their insecurities and made them feel like royalty. The doc’s principal weakness — and it’s no doubt an unavoidable one — is the absence of Madonna to share her memories of that temporary family. And while the guys are disarmingly frank about their personal highs and lows, the suspicion arises that they’re somewhat zipped-up about their possibly litigious former madre.
What rescues the film from becoming just another “where are they now?” reality show is the charm, personality and emotional honesty of the dancers — now in their 40s and mostly still looking pretty fine, even those with thickened waistlines, slackened features and less hair.
The core members of the group were Luis Camacho and Jose Gutierez, plucked from the black and Hispanic New York drag-ball scene (House of Xtravaganza was their alma mater) by Madonna to dance in her music video for “Vogue,” directed by David Fincher, and following that, to perform in the yearlong global tour. The charges of cultural appropriation made against Madonna at the time are not addressed, but then, she’s always been a magpie so those gripes now seem irrelevant,
While a willingness to share the spotlight is not the first trait you’d associate with Madonna, she was looking for dancers with presence, and with a story to tell. “Give me more of you,” was her key piece of direction, one of them recalls. That came naturally. “We carried our flamboyance as a warning,” explains Camacho. “Yes, we have earrings on, we have eyeliner on, but don’t mistake any of this for weakness.”
Please read the full review at HollywoodReporter.com