CHOREOGRAPHING THE BALLROOM SCENES ON FX’S POSE
In spring 2017, Twiggy Pucci Garçon was both excited and worried to hear that Ryan Murphy, producer of Glee and American Horror Story, had a new show in the works, about the New York house and ball culture of the late ’80s, the dazzling LGBTQI dance, drag, and runway competitions. The show would be called Pose.
Garçon has been part of the New York house scene since her adolescence in the early 2000s in Portsmouth, Virginia, and is now “overall overseer” for the House of Garçon, coordinating about 250 global members to plan and create balls. For many, ballroom is more than just an emotional and colorful subject for an hourlong TV drama. She aired her concerns on Facebook, requesting that someone from the scene be hired to help create the show. Six degrees of social media separation later, Garçon had a contract as a ball culture consultant.
Pose follows a group of African American and Latinx gay, trans, and gender nonbinary individuals in the late ’80s. In the outside world, the characters face prejudice, poverty, and the AIDS crisis. In ball culture, Blanca Evangelista and her chosen family find a safe space to express themselves.
In a typical ballroom scene, Emcee Pray Tell (portrayed by Broadway great Billy Porter) calls each category, and the characters, in suits and gowns, vogue and strut under the spotlights. For the category “Runway Model Effect,” Angel Evangelista (played by Indya Moore) wears a strapless column gown in a Chanel-like metallic tweed, her face obscured by a wide-brimmed black cocktail hat that she lifts dramatically as she begins to walk. For the category “Black Beauties,” Angel again steals the show with a jewel-toned sequin gown and windblown hair, courtesy of electric fans. Vying for trophies and glory in a world that denies them so much, they win acceptance and love.
“A large part of my role for the first season was bringing in other folks from the ballroom scene,” says Garçon, who is also senior program director for the True Colors Fund, working to end youth LGBTQI homelessness. She says that her first list of must-haves included model Dominique Jackson, who portrays the regal housemother Elektra Abundance-Wintour, and Jack Mizrahi, a contemporary ballroom commentator originally brought on to consult but who now portrays a version of himself on the show.
Having now completed the second season, Garçon can be quite sure of Murphy’s intentions. The FX show has won accolades for the inclusion of LGBTQI creatives at every level of production, from background actors (often cast by Garçon) to executive producers.
Garçon is committed to accuracy when choreographing runway sequences for the characters on the show. “Poseis a period piece, so I look to stories that have been passed down. Ballroom was significantly more underground, even when I was coming up. I also do a ton of research.”
But getting it right isn’t just about the precision of a runway walk or a pose. It is also about creating a space for people to tell their stories. She knows the life-changing impact of people seeing themselves in media. “A friend who works as a doctor in HIV-positive communities of color let me know that one of his patients was inspired by Pose to consistently take their HIV meds,” Garçon says. “Over the season, they saw this person’s numbers increase. I go back to that text conversation and I’m just like, wow. It pushes me to keep doing the things I’m doing.”