PHOTOGRAPHY BY: DOLLY AVENUE
Janet Jackson’s State of the World Tour has been critically acclaimed nationwide, notably all thanks to — Gil Duldulao. After Janet Jackson’s pregnancy announcement, fans were awaiting Janet’s return to the stage after halting her Unbreakable World Tour. The return and re-branding of the show took on social agendas that Janet Jackson has reprised and been exemplifying her entire music career. Eerily appropriate in today’s social climate, hence the tour’s name change to her 1989 recorded-track State of the World from her chart-topping album Rhythm Nation 1814.
After attending Janet Jackson’s State of the World Tour in Chicago, I noticed Janet and her dancers were sticking around the Chicagoland area for charitable events and filming scenes for an alluded documentary. The camp was seen capturing life as Janet embarks on motherhood, touring and recording new music. As I was in the drive-thru for Portillo’s scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed Gil was in the same area. I went to the bar where Gil was enjoying himself near his hotel in hopes that I would run into him. As I approached the outside of this bar, I noticed Gil was standing outside taking a smoke break. I double-parked my car and approached Gil with gratitude for reassuring Janet’s return and hopeful for her happiness on this cathartic tour. I had Gil sign my SOTW tour book and asked if we could reconvene in the new year because I wanted to speak to him regarding his past and future works.
How has it been preparing for tour since Janet returned to the stage for SOTW Tour?
I think before getting this tour together, it came about as an idea during our creative calls while she was in London. It all just came together so quickly. It was about a month and a half. Getting the dancers staged, content staged. There wasn’t a moment that I had to take it all in. There was no time to even evaluate the emotions this tour brought out of me.
For me, this tour was amazing and it was successful. Normally I wouldn’t read any reviews, but there were no bad reviews surrounding the tour.
To get that done in a month is exceptional considering how vastly different Unbreakable Tour was to State of the World.
Yeah, we had a total of three months to get it all done. To also have a baby on top of that is a commitment. To dive back into it to fulfill a promise she made [while traveling] with her son on the road, not to mention her many other issues and obligations, is pretty amazing. Janet did all that while remaining happy and present despite all of the outside noise. She showed up every night as well as every member on the tour. Most tours are usually spaced out but to do 56 shows in 97 days like we did is an amazing accomplishment.
Absolutely. I truly enjoyed both shows but State of the World was timely. I loved the feel of the show so congratulations to really evoking what audiences in America needed to hear right now politically, socially — I think it was the perfect time to be reminded that Janet Jackson has been that voice for so long.
Growing up in Hawaii, when did you first cultivate an affinity for dancing?
My uncle took me to a dance class when I was 7. It wasn’t really a thing. I know my mom had a band growing up. She was a singer and we always had music around the house. We didn’t have cable to see what was going on MTV so it wasn’t like my thoughts were “Oh, I really wanna dance when I grow up…” but then my Uncle took me to the dance class and I fell in love with it. I was asked to be in the youth company and we performed everywhere in Hawaii. I fell in love with the art of dance and how it made me feel inside.
When I was older and was attending a performing arts school, my dance instructor exposed us to music videos and Broadway. I did a lot of Broadway shows when I was young and was exposed to so many things at a young age. By the time I was in middle school and through high school, I knew I wanted to leave Hawaii to pursue a career in dance.
You going to dance class inspired you to love dance? Was it Hawaiian-based dance?
Well, yes. I did do Hula when I was really young. When I started dancing professionally it was more hip-hop based. With the youth company, I was attending our instructors always encouraged us to try new things. You have to train in many aspects so you can be versatile in many genres of dance. I do remember feeling like I had to change companies to focus on other genres of dance like ballet, jazz, funk and that’s when I started exploring that. Dance always made me feel at home. Even now at 39, it is still the same thing for me. Whatever makes you feel good is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing at that moment.
With that being said, do you remember anyone, in particular, to inspire you to dance creatively?
It really was three different artists. It was Bob Fosse, Janet Jackson and Prince. The minute I got to high school things changed and my mom was like cable is the new thing! Next thing I know we had cable and I remember turning on the TV and seeing Janet’s “If” music video. I can remember the force and how powerful the piece was… With Prince, it was the American Music Awards and watching him perform. He had Mayte, Jamie King and the dancers were so fierce. It was the attitude. It was mesmerizing. The fire and attitude of the dancers drew me in and inspired me to train to be better.
What was your first official gig?
My first official gig was performing with Prince. I went to audition for two people: Tina Landon, who also choreographed ‘If ‘ with Janet, and Jamie King. They were the main focal point of that Prince performance. When my agent said go, I was like, “Of course, these are my two idols!” When I got the gig, I was really surprised because at that time the trend was tall and muscular dancers. I was so surprised I got it.
I was reading your resume and seen that you worked with Jennifer Lopez back in 1999. How was that promo tour because I remember performances from that time and era?
Yeah, again it all kind of revolved around my idol, Tina Landon. After the Velvet Rope Tour, she asked me to assist her on some projects. At the time it was the beginning of Jennifer’s music career and I got that opportunity to dance with her through Tina. One thing I took away from that experience is that Tina Landon and Shawnette Heard must have seen something in me from VRT because Tina took the time to mold me and teach me. She showed me how she worked. To be around her greatness was an invaluable learning experience. It was like a university for me. It was another point of growth. I was the youngest on tour. Being around older, experienced dancers and assisting Tina was when I started to play with choreography in my room. You couldn’t help but be inspired after an 8-hour day with Tina Landon.
How old were you on The Velvet Rope Tour?
I was booked for the tour when I was around 16 or 17. Then we did a lot of promo touring. Back in the day, you used to do promo for an album for an entire year. These days it’s just like a week and “bye.” [laughs]
Damn. You were really young Gil…
I know. In my 20s — I had the opportunity to do Tina Turner’s 24/7 Tour. That was an entire new phase for me because I didn’t have Tina Landon anymore. I told myself that this was the time for me to step up, be an adult and utilize what I’d learned in that time. It was scary but I did it.
At the point of 20 — you worked with legendary iconic acts so early in your career. You worked with Beyoncé on the set of Carmen: A Hip-Hopera as well. What was your role on set?
Yes, I actually forgot about that. [laughs] Carmen was new for me as well because it was a film set. Film-wise, it reminded me of being on set of a music video. I worked mostly on the big dance pieces. I didn’t really have time to be on set for long. I also think it was a time when Beyoncé first started acting and I don’t think the director wanted her to dance. I was also able to have Jenna Dewan to assist me and it was a great learning experience. Kelly Konno danced in the film as well!
You worked with Nicki Minaj on The Pinkprint Tour, being that Nicki is a hybrid of this centrically-creative rap star how was that experience different from all of the rest of the tours?
I teach dance at Pulse Dance Experience and started working with Laurie Ann Gibson. She and I became close and is like a sister to me. We always said, ‘for the right project we’re going to collaborate’ because we vibe well together and want to be around each other. Being around her is a happy place to be for me. Y’know her, “Boom! Kack!” [laughs].
Finally, that one thing came into our lap, we collaborated and it was beautiful. It was Nicki’s very first tour and it was dope. I didn’t get a chance to vibe with Nicki as much because I was so focused on doing the work. I was busy trying to make sure the dancers and creative were on point. Following this, I was called to do Nicki’s Pepsi commercial in Argentina and that’s when I feel like my relationship with Nicki started because it was just the two of us. I think at that time there were so many expectations of her and so many opportunities within a 6-month time span and I think it overwhelmed her. I think she’s had time now to catch her breath. When people are overwhelmed there’s a lot of frustration as well. I know that made her stronger because she did it and she’s continuing to do it.
When doing a commercial you have to be on time. What I did, and I believe she respected me for it because I was scared, was tell her, ‘Listen you need to get out there now. I know it’s a lot going on but get out there and smile but this Pepsi commercial is going to make you more.’
I think when everyone knows that Janet is busy they’ll call Gil.
I can’t wait to see you do more projects for newer artists.
You get so much material from a lot of labels and yes, there are some artists that I’d like to develop and take on but the music has to be there for me. The feeling and the fight of the artist has to be felt through a meeting or conversation. It’s not about the money. I remember one artist coming up to me and saying, ‘You must be so expensive.’ I think that’s the misconception because I work with Janet Jackson. It’s not about that. Little do they know, when I work with younger artists, it’s not about the money. I have to be inspired.
Jerry Lorenzo, one of our favorite new designers, you were able to work with him and select pieces of Fear of God for Janet’s tour. Describe that experience collaborating with Jerry for Janet.
When I like something, I don’t like to overpower people by telling them what to do. Obviously, there was a point in the tour where the music and vibe was ‘something else’ and I’ve always loved Jerry’s stuff. I snatch out a lot of things. I just remember thinking that Jerry would be best for that section of the show. Following so many designers over the years — I’m not one to sleep on what’s good. I have a certain eye for what I like. Jerry came in one day and was so humble and he brought everything. I gave him a room and told him, “Tell me the dancers you need. Tell me when it’s Janet’s time and just play.” I told him ‘this is your canvas’ y’know… I don’t like to tell creative people what we want but when you know someone is so talented you want their creativity to show. Too much control over certain things doesn’t always work. I’d speak up if I didn’t think it fit but every look was just so funky. This was Janet’s time to be lax and cool. I definitely plan on working with him the future.
I was excited to see Janet in Fear of God and wearing the sneakers and really embracing the newer designers in the industry.
It breaks the part of the show. When Jerry came around the show was done already. When it came time for Jerry to style and get the looks together, we made him sit and watch the show first. Of course, he was gagging. You know what’s funny? I walked in one day, before contacting Jerry, and said we need to find this guy. I heard he’s big on not being contacted. It’s really hard to contact him. It’s not the fact that he’s a big designer but I think he tries to protect his brand and his family so for that reason he’s not so accessible. I was like, “Email the website! Call Maxfield!” But finally we got in touch with him and it all worked out.
Speaking of designers you love, you have your own style and very aware of streetwear. I saw you wearing Comme des Garçons and Supreme just to work out on Instagram.
You saw that?! [laughs]
You have a lot of knowledge regarding streetwear. What are some of your favorite moment happening now in streetwear?
I like Supreme but I like when they collaborate with people. You’ve got people who go to Supreme and just want anything Supreme. If I’m going to buy Supreme it has to be a collab or a special piece. As far as style, I like kilts and skirts and awkward lines. I love Comme Des Garcons for that. I have a lot of suit jackets. I have a lot of big wide-pant legs.
That trend is about to come back heavy, the wide-pant leg.
Yeah, I’ve had so much stuff for years. Beginning with the Velvet Rope Tour, so I’m glad I kept them all. But I love CDG. I love Yohji Yamamoto. My favorite is Ann Demeulemeester. I love her lines. I love the androgeny and mystery of how men and women can wear her stuff. I love what Off-White is doing as well. I also love to see Off-White pieces mixed in with different pieces. I don’t think an all Off-White, CDG, Demeulemeester, or Rick Owens outfit has much creativity if you just wear the brand from top to finish.
You prefer to see variety styled looks?
Yeah, I play with fashion here and there but lately, I’ve been relaxing on the fashion tip because now everything is so minimalistic and simple. I like that. You either have to have a fierce bag, clutch or a nice shoe.
I remember meeting you in a black trench coat — I believe by Raf Simons.
Well, most of my long coats are from maybe 15 years ago. All my trenches or 3-quarter coats are Balenciaga or Margiela. My new favorite piece is actually a puffy Rick Owens jacket that Janet got for me.
How important do you think it was for Janet to remind people that we all need to be aware of social change and responsibility?
I think to use your voice through art is much more impactful and special than hearing it on FOX, MSNBC or CNN. When I’m home my life is the news. I think to get the right content it has to be a collaborative effort. I worked with our musical director Daniel Jones. It was an everyday thing on whether we should go there with contact. First, it became a collage and then the music was inserted after we found the vision. It’s important. It was a big part of the show because when Janet called me she said, ‘How about the State of the World Tour?’ And then she talked about music from decades ago and how it’s messaging is still something people need to hear. We had to have that type of opener. I think that what’s so special about this tour. Instead of going on record she, unapologetically, performed that message.
You know we toured the whole country and even I was scared saying we are in Alabama, chil’ren. We are in Nebraska…
There’s no denying that the message needed to penetrate eyelids. No definitely. I definitely thought this belongs in the show. They only city I believe we were very sensitive in was Las Vegas. This was due to the incident that had happened so recently before we performed there. A few things were blurred out but other than that, the message stands.
I think even if we were to do more shows that opening piece needs to be heard.
Speaking of more shows, Janet is lined up to do Essence & Panorama music festivals do you plan on being instrumental in the festival performances?
Yes! I have to sit down with her so that I can spill out all my ideas for these shows. Now is the time to go over ideas because we have time right now. My mind is racing but I’m excited.
What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked on artistically to this point?
Now that I’m away from the tour at the moment, I’d honestly have to say SOTW was my most special moment. I say this because it was my 24 hours for so many months. There were moments on this tour where I’d have panic attacks. Then I’d step back and think about how I know something came out of me crafting this tour. I think this is a meaningful one because I think everyone can relate to it whether it be domestic abuse, social issue, injustices. There were so many climatic points in the show that made you feel something. As someone who was a part of creating it, every day was hard for me. It was hard to get to work because of the anticipation. I knew what was coming but every night it kept bringing up feelings in me that I thought I dealt with. I put aside my personal issues and was glad that I had this journey. We put in the work to make this special because we didn’t want it to end.
Another memorable moment on tour was when Tina Turner introduced me to Buddhism. Buddhism continues to stick with me. I have so many moments in my career. I’m just glad those moments are continuing to happen.
With the resurgence of Janet Jackson, I appreciate what you’ve been able to do; who are you wanting to work within the industry that you haven’t yet?
I’ve been able to work with so many legends of every generation and I take pride in that. I love working with quality artists. It would be like being in school again but I would say it would probably be Madonna. You know she’s a legend in her own right. It would be different for me and would be a challenge.
Beyoncé. When I teach I use either her music or I use Rihanna. I’m obviously moved by their music but imagining creating something, not just choreographing, a visual. To be a part of that moment, even if it’s once, just to have it. I think it would be fun to work with Cardi B. I would work with any artist that would allow me to create. Even Drake. I like rock bands too. Nine Inch Nails or even Coldplay.
Watching you work and seeing your choreography has been some of my favorite movement for such as long time especially for ‘All Nite’.
When you actually really look back where dance was back then, you think about Rock With U, Feedback and also All Nite. All Nite was a different era of its own because choreography like that wasn’t at the forefront.
Yeah, it wasn’t and I was pissed that Janet didn’t get the opportunity to tour that year. The Damita Jo album was truly one of my favorite solid projects from Janet after the classics.
For Janet to feel discouraged to tour in 2004 post-Super Bowl upset me and a lot of fans alike. Let’s talk about that time.
Yeah, there was so much darkness around after Super Bowl when she was releasing music. I can look at 20 Y.O. and Damita Jo as being some of my favorite projects because of the melodies. It was different for her but so good. Songs like “Spending Time With You” and even the sensual songs at the time were ‘so me’ because I’m more of mid-tempo listener more R&B. I don’t know what went on during that time and why the tour didn’t happen. Whether it was management, artist or brand we were fresh off of Super Bowl so…
The Super Bowl moment, 14 years ago this year, I remember really enjoying that time musically for Janet when she was working with Kanye, Babyface and I do remember really regretting it didn’t happen.
There comes a time when I have to let it go. My boss lets it go. I have a hard time letting go of the past. I think we’re all in a good place and I think everything happens for a reason. With struggle, pain and resistance you want to push for more. Janet never wavered from her vision or what she wants for herself. She just stayed the course even if it took a couple albums. It was respectable. Even now with her divorce, she used that pain to go back on the road and looks better than ever. She looks fiercer than ever and it’s definitely not the end.
Since our interview Gil has choreographed Janet Jackson’s 2018 Billboard Music Awards Icon performance and is currently on the second U.S. leg of the State of the World Tour. Janet has recently shot a music video for an upcoming single tentatively titled ‘Made For Now‘ featuring Daddy Yankee.
Terrell Johnson is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of SWGRUS.