YRB Interview: Rich and Tone Talauega

By: Stephanie Amy Collazo Photography Credit: Kevin Mazur/Wire Image for Smirnoff

Rich and Tone Talauega are two of the most influential choreographers in the world, choreographing everything from GAP commercials to Chris Brown tours. Having started their careers as assistant choreographers for Travis Payne and LaVelle Smith, the two brothers were destined for greatness from the beginning. Recently, the duo had been working on the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project, a global dance competition searching for someone to become the newest backup dancer for Madonna, when Rich took some time out to speak with YRB.

YRB: How did you get your big break?

Rich: I would think we got our big break when we choreographed for Michael Jackson. We did “Rock My World.” Up to that point, we were doing projects here and there and our name was getting out there, but I think what solidified us in the game – what I think would solidify anybody – is if you choreograph for Michael Jackson. I think that was our big break.

YRB: Who has been your favorite client to work with?

Rich: Honestly, I love Madonna. It’s a bit of a hate/love relationship with her because she’s hardcore at times and she’ll test you all the time. She’ll challenge you. She’ll make you feel like ‘is that good enough?’  And you have to question yourself. This is somebody that’s been around for quite some time. She’s just the queen; she knows a lot and she has a lot of experience. I definitely take her words into consideration.

YRB: How did you become associated with Madonna?

Rich: We went to audition to choreograph for her on the “Reinvention” tour. We went in just knowing that we weren’t going to get the gig because we are two guys from the street and we didn’t even know if she was going to like our movement and all that stuff. We went in not thinking we were going to get anything, which was cool in a way, it sort of released some tension and pressure. We danced our asses off for her and then after words she said, ‘When are you guys ready to work?’ and it caught us off guard. We were shocked.

YRB: Can you tell me a little about the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project?

Rich: It’s a great competition. It’s bringing dancers from around the world to compete for a place to go on tour and be a dancer for Madonna. [It’s an] amazing experience – a lot of really unique amazing talent from Europe, Asia, South America, the Caribbean’s and [North] America.

YRB: The winner was Lil Buck, but what were you looking for in the competition? What makes a dancer stand out to you?

Rich: What makes a dancer stand out to me is how they can balance technique and rawness. I don’t like anything that’s too polished, but then again, I don’t like anything that’s too rough. I’m looking for a balance between those two disciplines and just pizzazz and charisma. Aside from the skill part of it, you’re performing on stage so you have to have magnetics. You just can’t have skills; you need a little bit more to give it that x-factor.

YRB: What are your favorite and least favorite dance trends?

Rich: [Laughs] My favorite and least favorite dance trends… Well, you know I’m kind of from the early ‘90s, so I really love the trendy dances from those days. You know like the running man, the cabbage patch [and] the troop, all those, which are still quite relevant these days. My least favorite, I don’t know if I have a least favorite, honestly. There are some that I think are a bit too comical. But I think the qualms I have with some of the latest dance trends are it’s stuff that everybody can do. I’m not saying I have anything against it, I’m just saying it’s a bit mediocre. After a while, people don’t really pay attention to skills, and that’s something I pay attention to.  You could definitely do a simple dance, and a simple dance is cool for a party, but as far as dancer dancing, I think something like b-boying or crumping or something like that would suffice for that appetite for skills.

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