As a fan, It’s hard for me to write or comment any of Madonna’s work. I’ll do my best to be impartial since the assignment of reviewing the singer’s most recent concert was the trade for my absence last week during the Designing for Live Performance class. Using Elinor Fuchs’ Visit to a Small Planet as my workframe, I hope to be protected from any bias (hard to believe!).
Named Rebel Heart, Madonna’s planet feels like a huge and cozy bubble. It’s an interior space, but the ceiling is so far above that you don’t feel claustrophobic. Maybe the opposite, you feel that you can jump and dance.
I see a wide proscenium connected by a long passage to a small stage heart shaped. There are secret spaces where dancers show up and disappear. The floor moves up and down and can become a ramp or rise 90 degrees turning into a wall. Objects move around fast and suddenly you see stairs, tables and crosses that nobody noticed showing up at first. In certain moments these elements feel so gigantic that they paralyze the crowd for a few seconds.
Time goes by, not so slowly
Time moves fast and is marked by the changes on the tracklist and by the different atmospheres evoked. It starts with an asian red colored world, evolves to a dark rockabilly motor garage room, then migrates to a spanish gypsy gathering, to finally end in a 20s burlesque festive motif.
You don’t have much time to look in other direction than the stage. Even during the interludes you would not like to miss, as those are the moments when the dancers showcase their virtuosity without competing with the singer. Some of these passages might be the highlights of the concert, as for example when they bounce around above the crowd as pendulums hold by high sticks.
The weather feels warm and you will be sweating if you are there to live the experience and not to contemplate only. The temperature collaborates to the hedonistic mood.
In a Madonna mood
The tone is sometimes ironic, as for example when nuns twerk around and show their talents on the pole dancing. It isn’t aggressive, but rather celebratory. It’s a joyful and passionate world. There is no outside politics involved. Even the jokes with the church icons feel more like a self-referential resource than to any provocation to christianism.
Madonna’s own legacy is the theatrical mirrors. Fans will recognize the aesthetics of Don’t Tell Me(2000) on the projections during the performance of True Blue. The iconic Like a Prayer(1989) scene of Madonna flirting with a Jesus played by an actor of color is performed again into a different song. And the orgasm scene she did in her Blond Ambition tour (1990) is revisited by the dancers.
Don’t mess up with queen
The main social rule is clear: everyone is there to see the “queen”. Every aspect enhances her size, as when the floor elevates her over the others on stage. Her movements dictates how the dance progresses. On stage, besides the singer, dancers have more authority than the musicians. But her majesty is willing to interact and joke with her followers. Her relationship with the crowd feels intimate.
The crowd itself has its own social rules. It’s clear the distinction between those who are there to have fun, sing and dance, and those who are there for just another family entertainment weekend program. Madonna has become a commodity, an expensive one. It feels like many go see her to check off that item from their list of things to do in life.
Although things seem disconnected in a vaudevillian style, there are a subtle progression over the two hours of concert. Madonna starts in a cage, fighting with warriors to get free. As the time goes by, she talks about love, experiments the pains of glories of relationships, and she finally ends up free in a celebratory mood.
What it feels like for me?
As for me, Madonna’s world feels like a celebration of self esteem. Nothing feels new anymore in her world. But it’s Ok, I don’t need be chocked or see the most outrageous new tune. I like remembering that when I first discovered Madonna, I would lock myself in my room to listen to Ray of Light (1998). For some reason, I felt I needed to do that privately as if it was something forbidden. I enjoy looking at the my past and feeling good about myself. I’m proud to say I’m a Madonna fan. And I’m a fan of myself. No need to lock myself anymore.