Even if you don't know the name Laurieann Gibson, you've undoubtedly seen her work through pop stars like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Alicia Keys. The creative director and celebrity choreographer is the mastermind behind some of the most compelling images in music and turns the biggest stars in the world from raw talent to a polished finished product.
We caught up with Gibson to talk about her show Fake Off, a competition series in which Cirque de Soleil-style dance troupes battle to impress judges with their high-octane performances. Plus, Gibson tells us all about her start as a Fly Girl on In Living Color, which dance trends she thinks need to die and much more.
Fake Off is a truly out-of-the-box concept for a show. Tell us what it's about and what drew you to it.
I wanted to do it is because it's so incredibly creative. It has dancers and magicians and puppeteers and all these different elements combined with Black art, and to be able to create these incredible performances in such a short period of time, it's really awesome. It's hugely on the cutting edge and there's nothing like it out there.
As a creative director who has been known to put pop artists in eggs and really change the way people see music, this show really speaks to my abilities as a whole, not just choreography. It's everything I do in real life and I get to be a part of in the show.
What's a fake?
A fake is an illusion. It's magic in the moment that makes you believe something is really happening, and how is it happening?
You're behind some of the most compelling images in pop music of the past decade — you mentioned putting Lady Gaga in the egg for her Grammy Awards performance — yet the average person probably doesn't know who you are. Is it frustrating to see other people get all the credit for your ideas?
I think that it gets frustrating, honestly, when you get to a place and there's an element of ego or ownership that comes into it that stops you from continuing to be creative. If you love what you do, you don't really do it for [the credit], but for the art and the music. That's what you live for. But when the person your working with doesn't want to continue working hard or ignores the elements that got them to where they are, those are the things that get frustrating.
Dancing seems almost like a non-negotiable part of being a pop star these days. Everybody's got to do it. But not everyone is a Ciara or a Beyoncé in terms of talent. Do you think anybody can dance or at least "fake it" for a video?
Absolutely. If you go back to day one of some of the very big artists I've worked with, people would not believe that that's what they once were. But like any coach, I pride myself on being the best. I believe there is a dance in everybody. My job is to make them look like they've been dancing their whole lives.
Who has been your biggest transformation? I'm looking for names...
[Laughs] I can't really give my secrets out and tell you how bad or good some of these people were when I started with them. But I will tell you...I did this film Beyond the Lights and Gugu [Mbatha-Raw], who is an amazing actress, had never danced before. Or, when I did Honey with Jessica Alba. Those experiences were interesting because I had to work with actresses and make it so you couldn't even clock that they weren't dancers. I'm always really proud of those types of transitions.
There's a lot of discussion about the way dance moves — like everything else, it seems — get appropriated from the Black community by the mainstream and then blow up. Miley Cyrus's twerking is the most obvious example. Does that bother you or, once it's out in the world, is it fair game?
First of all, I don't believe anybody should be twerking on a stage while they're a number one artist. I don't think anybody who has a hit record should be twerking. I have an issue with a lot of pop stars who are just not living up to performing at a level that I think they should be performing at as a pop star.
But, for that matter, I don't think a lot of Black girls should be twerking. As far as dance in the Black community, I'm on a mission to elevate it overall. I'm not someone who wants it to stay where it is right now. I want it to get back to Janet Jackson and Debbie Allen and Gregory Hines. That level of excellence in performance.
One of your earliest gigs was as a Fly Girl on In Living Color. Did you work with Jennifer Lopez back then?
Jen was a fly girl before me, but we've been really good friends since we were both starving dancers in New York. I got to be a fly girl when she left. I had the best time doing it. It was magical, just a good job for dancers back then.
How did you get the job? Did [Fly Girls choreographer] Rosie Perez hire you directly?
That was such a crazy time. I flew myself to LA [for the audition] and I didn't even have any money to eat that night. If I didn't get that job, I didn't know what was going to happen. I wanted to dance so bad, I literally was dancing for my life. I had, like, one can of tuna left. I was in the bathroom stall after the audition just praying. Then Rosie came in and told me, "You got the job." I couldn't even hear her say that. It was the toughest time in my life and that just turned everything around.
Fake Off airs Wednesdays on TruTV. Check your local listings.
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(Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Clear Channel)