When Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto at Rain became a renowned residency, his signature sound and persona were only a part of the appeal. Behind the literal and figurative curtain was a dancer-turned-show producer who would hugely impact the visual landscape of Las Vegas nightlife. At that time, Gen Cleary’s dance/production company Belluscious had been gaining traction with its corporate division, Stage Spectacle, providing clients such as Chanel, Mercedes-Benz and McDonald’s a more empowering, commercial brand of female glamor inspired by 1930s- and 1940s-era musicals.
Amid such corporate success, Cleary hesitated to take on another full-time club commitment. But she agreed, then had 10 days to create the Perfecto performance from scratch, an undertaking that necessitated the deconstruction of Rain’s ceiling to add rigging points for aerialists. That six-month trial production deal turned into a four-year stint just as the U.S. electronic-dance-music movement was gaining momentum.
Today Cleary produces shows for Marquee, Hakkasan, XS and other such nightlife behemoths. She’s driven, she says, by “a personal obsession to find an organic symbiosis with the music, with the performances and with the visual … to break that wall between the audience and the performer.”
But her story begins way before that when, at 5 years old, she took the stage as a tap dancer in Montreal. She turned pro at age 7 and was touring the U.S. by 13. In New York, she caught the eye of Fred Kelly (brother of famed dancer Gene Kelly), who became her mentor and introduced her to the particulars of Broadway showbiz. “How you ‘wow’ the audience,” Cleary explains, by integrating the music with the costumes, set designs, performances and storylines.
By adulthood, Cleary was a full-time tap soloist. Unfortunately her 5-foot-11 stature pigeonholed her as a French-cabaret-style dancer. Then, tragically, a 1998 car accident at 17 broke her pelvis and compromised her walking ability. Dancing was out of the question.
But Cleary saw an opportunity: Commercial dancing was booming in L.A., while the art of old-fashioned performance was getting lost. She formed a dance company out of Montreal to elevate women’s status in the entertainment business and to combat the pervasiveness of sexual objectification.
Cleary was leading a paradigm shift on the performance side. “Let’s forget about the word ‘sexy’ and go with ‘sassy.’ When you’re onstage you have to tease—you’re creating dream and passion—but you don’t have to act as if you’re having sex.”
Belluscious turns 10 this year, as she coordinates choreography, costume design and set designs to tell stories that complement the music. She also manages the dancers she employs. Cleary’s first big client was the Benson & Hedges tour that brought top European house-music producers, such as David Guetta, Paul van Dyk and Bob Sinclair, to Canadian clubs years before EDM gained mass appeal in the U.S. When the celebrity-host nightclub phenomenon started hitting, she worked with the stars of the moment, including Carmen Electra, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Venues and producers wanted more than a talking head, they wanted a show, and Cleary became the it-girl for this emerging form of nightlife entertainment.
When Rain and 9Group signed Oakenfold for the Perfecto residency, Cleary was asked to help create interaction between performers, guests and the DJ. She helped the DJ “to treat our music, our visuals, our branding like a pop star, as if you’re a Madonna … treat the product just like a musical, like a rock star or a pop star.” Soon Cleary was working with the likes of Rihanna, Avicii and LMFAO’s Redfoo.
In the past two months, Cleary has opened 17 more shows. She’s currently the creative director for the Cosmopolitan, and manages visuals for every residency at Marquee. She’s excited how the club’s stage lets her “get back to my roots, to try to break the cliché of what a go-go dancer is and how to elevate it.” She also choreographs the dancers at Bond.
Cleary is also the resident creative and performance director at Hakkasan, where she produces shows for Tiësto, Steve Aoki and the other residents. For the Calvin Harris show, the women wear heavy helmets rigged with three flat-screen TVs. “They can’t see anything at all, and they’re choreographed!” she says, laughing. “There’s another act I created where the girls are pretty much on giant hamster wheels; the wheels spin and they can do 360s in it. The girls are insane!”
What does all this creative insanity have in common? “Whether they’re go-go dancers or whether they’re onstage, we train them and we push them,” Cleary says. The key for her performers is “to focus on one person or a couple of people when they dance. Even though they are far away, that person is gonna feel it and feel part of it.”