NEW YORK • Pop superstar Beyonce may have been front and centre at her spectacular Coachella performances last month. But two of her secret weapons were JaQuel Knight and Chris Grant, the show's main choreographers.
From the start, Beyonce was clear about what she wanted. "She said, 'Let's do a homecoming,'" Knight said. "Boom. A nice, clear concept that we were all able to snap into and execute."
In the nearly two-hour performance, references to homecoming at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) - complete with a marching band and a glittering majorette solo - lived alongside dance styles ranging from flexing, a form born on the streets of Brooklyn, to stepping, a percussive form popular in fraternities and sororities.
Beginning in December, Grant and Knight worked with Beyonce's music team and started their preliminary dance preparations. By January, they started skeleton-crew rehearsals.
They have worked with her for 10 years. Among other credits, Knight is known for the Single Ladies video; Grant, Knight and Dana Foglia for Formation.
In a telephone interview last week, Knight, 28, and Grant, 29, discussed their latest adventure and their devotion to Beyonce.
Did Beyonce talk about the show's choices in terms of its politics?
Knight: We don't really consider it political. For us, it's embracing who we are. The show was very black, for a lack of a better word, from all aspects and we wanted to show love through who we are. This is where we come from and this is how we love and this is how we jam and this is our world.
I think the whole HBCUs and the homecoming experience is a very specific experience. If you've never been to a homecoming game, you don't know.
She wanted to introduce that to the world?
Knight: Yeah. That's something that hasn't been done before on the stage like this and it feels good.
Beyonce's all about how can we do things differently, but keep the musicianship, showmanship and precision of it all - it just made sense. She's been adding horns to her songs for the past couple of years and boom: Let's get a whole band.
What kind of movement looks good on Beyonce? What is natural?
Grant: She's really good with her neck. She can really hit and snap at certain moments, but also be cool and chill.
Knight: She can do anything. She's weird. I've seen times where she imitates people. When you put somebody magical in the room, she will make them do it 10 times, 20 times.
She's pulling and learning from you and, towards the end, it's like, "Wow - you are really studying me and you are really getting it."
One thing about Beyonce is she pays attention to detail. That's what I learnt from her. You've really got to pay attention and then, on top of that, add your own sauce.
What kind of stamina does she need to get through such a show? Do you work with her on cross-training?
Knight: She has a trainer and she also comes in and does a full dance warm-up and stretch with us. She just had twins, so we spent a lot of time strengthening her and getting her back into it. Your body goes into shock if you're not prepared to do a show of this calibre.
How did you put together the marching band for the show?
Knight: We flew quite a few people in from Atlanta because it was pretty difficult to cast in LA for the specific swag, funk and charisma we were looking for. We worked with Don Roberts, who was the consultant on (the movie) Drumline. We basically created our own professional-level marching band.
Does Beyonce like the rehearsal process?
Knight: Beyonce's going to rehearse every day. (Laughs) We have rehearsal every day - forever - until the show: "Do it again, do it again. Okay, one more time. Okay, I'm gonna go, maybe y'all can do it once more and send me the tape."
Do you think that she knew how historic this show would be?
Knight: I don't think any of us were expecting it to be this big of a thing. It's still blowing my mind. We even had a quick conversation with Bey as we were rehearsing for Week Two. She was like: "Wow. People really loved the show, huh?"
Grant: She was saying, "I guess we did our job."