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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."
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.
YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."
Is it any surprise a world premiere by choreographer Uri Sands and musician Justin Vernon, both renowned for the profound beauty and gorgeous musicality of their work, immediately sold out? We're hungry for creative collaborations that take reflective deep dives into what constitutes our humanity—and then there's the undeniable cool factor. Nine members of TU Dance will perform alongside Bon Iver (Vernon's band) during the evening-length piece. Presented as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. April 19–21. The work will also appear at the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 5. tudance.org.