This Choreographer Gets Beyoncé in Formation
They say your life can change in a moment. For JaQuel Knight, it took precisely three minutes and 18 seconds. That's how long three leotard-and-high-heel-clad women spent on-screen, strutting in perfect unison and becoming an instant video sensation, one that would go on to garner more than 600 million views on YouTube.
The women, of course, were Ashley Everett and Ebony Williams—and Beyoncé. The video was "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," and the co-choreographer was 19-year-old Knight, along with Frank Gatson Jr. "I went into that hoping it could be the gig of a lifetime," Knight says. "I knew it was my one big chance—'Don't screw it up,' I kept telling myself. I guess I played my cards right." Now, nearly 10 years later, Knight is one of the most sought-after choreographers in L.A.
That wasn't the plan, though: Knight, who grew up in Atlanta, hoped to become a professional dancer. He learned to move by watching TLC and MC Hammer videos, and started taking classes at 14. By 18, Knight had begun auditioning in L.A., where Gatson, Beyoncé's longtime choreographer and creative director, spotted him. Although he didn't get the dance role, Gatson liked the way he moved and asked Knight to come up with some choreography. They worked together on a Michelle Williams gig, and a few months later Gatson called and said he had a job with Beyoncé that he wanted Knight for immediately. "If Bey likes you, you'll stay. If not, we'll figure something else out for you," said Gatson. Knight flew to New York City that night—and Bey liked him, so he stayed.
After "Single Ladies," Knight was a choreographer for Beyoncé's I Am…, The Mrs. Carter Show and Formation world tours, plus many of her music videos, including her 2016 Lemonade visual album. "She knows what she wants to do and how she wants to present herself," he says. "We do our very best to make sure that vision happens for her."
If Beyoncé and her dancers always look perfectly polished onstage, that's thanks in part to the star's desire to "always get it right," says Knight. "Our rehearsals are super-intense," he says. "We're very hard on the dancers because we have such a high bar to maintain. And when Beyoncé comes in the room, the dynamic doesn't change much. She doesn't come in like, 'Okay, The Queen is here!' She's just hoppin' in with the dancers."
So what's next for Knight? He's interested in developing movie screenplays and television shows. "I want to bring back those big musicals—Sweet Charity, Chicago, West Side Story," he says. "And my first script is on its way!" He also wants to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at Beyoncé's dancers—and what it's like working with the world's biggest superstar. But even when Beyoncé is on hiatus, Knight isn't. "Downtime is just time thinking of the master plan."
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
I first started pulling out my eyelashes when I was 9, after removing fake ones at a dance competition. A few of my own eyelashes came out and I felt a new sensation. It hurt, but the prick also felt so good.
Eventually, I was pulling even when I was not wearing stage makeup, sometimes unaware of what I was even doing. It happened while I was reading or doing homework, or when I was sad or angry.
For the next five years, I secretly pulled my eyelashes, then moved to my eyebrows and eventually the back of my scalp. Finally, at 14, I told my mom what I had been doing and she took me to see a child psychologist. It turned out I had trichotillomania (a.k.a. "trich"), which is one of a group of behaviors known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors in which people repeatedly pull, pick, scrape or bite their hair, skin or nails.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.