Three of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour dances recall the night they wished to get busted with Madge while performing in Toronto
Ester Gould with Jose Gutierez, Oliver Crumes III, and Kevin Stea
Keith Beaty / Toronto Star
There’s nothing like the prospect of spending a night in jail with Madonna over lewd behaviour onstage to give a show some edge.
That’s how three of Madge’s dancers saw it and why they say Toronto got “one of the best shows” on Madonna’s smash 1990 Blonde Ambition world tour.
Oliver Crumes III, Jose Gutierez and Kevin Stea recalled their last time in the city, 26 years ago, on their recent return to promote the documentary Strike a Pose, which screens at Hot Docs.
“It energized us. We wanted to be dirtier than ever,” laughed Stea, after they learned Toronto police would be at Madonna’s final of three shows to see how far she was going onstage — and might bust her for being too sexually provocative.
“I think I grabbed my crotch in all these areas I never grabbed before,” he said.
“I was excited, honestly,” added Gutierez, who relished the idea of going to jail with Madge. It also gave Toronto some prissy infamy, thanks to the incident’s inclusion in the 1991 hit behind-the-scenes feature film about the tour, Truth or Dare.
“They wanted to censor us and we were like, ‘OK, we’re going to give them a reason to censor us,’” added Gutierez, who was one of the dancers who sported oversized, velvet conical bras for Madonna’s famously raunchy “Like A Virgin.” “It was so funny, because after, (police) just came backstage and said, ‘Oh, the show was fine.’”
A Toronto TV news clip about the event also shows up in Strike a Pose, co-directed by filmmaker Ester Gould (her film A Strange Love Affair With Ego is also at Hot Docs) and journalist Reijer Zwaan.
Gould said she and Zwaan didn’t want Strike a Pose to be “a trip down memory lane.” They wanted to look beyond memories of Madonna in her Gautier-wearing pop goddess heyday (the energetic concert footage that opens the film is a pure rush of heart-thumping nostalgia) to explore what became of the seven male dancers made famous by the tour and Truth or Dare.
Dance captain Stea and Gutierez, who helped popularize Voguing and appeared in Madonna’s “Vogue” video, were joined by Crumes, one of the young dancers who answered an ad to find “FIERCE male dancers . . . wimps and wanna-bes need not apply.”
All except Crumes are gay and, with Madonna’s encouragement, the dancers became queer icons at a time when acceptance was far from secure.
“What struck us was the paradox,” Gould said. “On one hand, these guys are iconic figures, these paragons of pride and homosexual freedom, and at the same time there’s this back story which is different for each of them. They all have very different lives and very different stories.”
They saw themselves as family and Madonna responded with genuine openness and affection, evident in Truth or Dare through cuddle sessions in her bed, enthusiastic games of Truth or Dare, and heartfelt scenes of their final farewells with the singer.
“Just to be clear, we were in love with her, too,” said Stea.
The dancers also had secrets; three were HIV positive and terrified they would be found out. And once the tour wrapped, there were feelings of abandonment and isolation. Some struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and questioned their self-worth.
Dancer Gabriel Trupin, dubbed Madonna’s “favourite child” on the tour, wasn’t comfortable being outed onscreen and sued Madonna for dismissing his request to cut footage of a steamy kiss between him and dancer Salim “Slam” Gauwloos during a round of Truth or Dare. Trupin died of AIDS in 1995 and his mother appears in Strike a Pose, still angry about her son’s betrayal.
The men were naive when fame landed. Some were teens. Gutierez turned 19 while on tour and had to get his mother’s permission to go on the road.
“We were so young and so talented, and we just wanted to be on the stage doing our thing, never once realizing that we were put in the forefront to lead this parade, and we were leading it and we led it good,” said Gutierez. “I think the fact we were so unaware made it more powerful.”
It was “amazing” working with Madonna, they said, where nightly parties were filled with celebrities and artists. Gutierez described being exposed to “the best of everything, taken care of to the fullest.” And then there was the shopping.
“It was going in there blind, not sure what you were going to get into and then it just turns into this. It was beautiful,” said Crumes.
Gould said the five minutes of Truth or Dare footage used in Strike a Pose — Madonna was a producer on the film and had to approve its use — was “expensive.”
So has the Material Girl seen the doc? The singer has a copy but no word on whether she has screened it.
“The fact she hasn’t made a comment makes me feel like she saw it,” said Stea.
“I look at it this way, I don’t think she would hate it,” said Crumes. He and Gutierez expect the singer, who they knew to be far more sensitive than her brash public persona makes her appear, would be made emotional by it.
“I think she’ll be kind of mad that it’s not about her,” Gutierez added with a chuckle.
Strike a Pose screens Saturday, May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Go to hotdocs.ca for details.