JaQuel Knight opens up about the "mind-blowing" experience he's had choreographing Queen Bey for nine years

By Jeff Nelson
February 14, 2017 06:00 PM
Hao Zeng

Always one to “cause all this conversation,” Beyoncé had fans and Grammys viewers alike buzzing about her performance Sunday night.

At the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, the expectant diva, 35, took the stage to perform her restrained Lemonade tracks “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.” Complete with video montages, holograms, and a precariously placed chair, her 10-minute set had the audience rapt — and occasionally scratching their heads!

PEOPLE caught up with JaQuel Knight, Beyoncé’s longtime choreographer (you can thank him for that iconic “Single Ladies” wrist twist!), who opened up about how “mind-blowing” it is to work with Queen Bey, what her goddess-inspired Grammys performance meant — and if she’ll take the stage at Coachella!

Kevin Winter/Getty

How did last night’s performance come together?

We’ve been working five weeks on this, since January, and then we also just started developing the number “Love Drought” right after [the Formation World] Tour, so the number’s been in development for a while.

She’s pregnant with twins! How did that inform the choreography?

You know, we were building the number and working on it a few weeks before she told us, and then she was sending notes, and the notes were kind of like, “Okay, what’s going on here?” And then once we found out, when she told us, it made total sense, and it was the perfect occasion for it all!

There was so much religious imagery included in the performance. A lot of people have pieced together that it evokes African and Roman goddesses. What was the message she was going for?

I think it’s just the empowerment of women, coming together and standing strong — doing something that your children can look up to and say, “Wow, my mom is that.” She wanted something that can be as classic as the Last Supper imagery, those looks. That’s where it was going. They last forever; super timeless, classic.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Between the video montages and all the dancers onstage, it was hard to tell what was even going on at times. What was the meaning behind that?

The whole idea was you don’t know what’s real and what’s fake. When you project on that, it really looks like, “Oh my God, that’s really her! She’s really onstage!” And then you realize, “Oh, that wasn’t her.” We really wanted to play big on that. It was something that we explored a bit in our Tidal performance this past fall. We wanted to dive a bit deeper and really pad it out with more of that and have some fun with it also, so that’s where that came from.

One of the craziest moments was when she was leaning back on a chair, completely parallel to the ground! How did that come together?

The chair was something we used in the film as well and wanted to bring some of those great visuals to life. So playing with the chair — it was like, “Maybe the chair can lean back by itself.” [Laughs] And so that’s what we did. It worked really cool, like — but it’s really scary, though! The first time you see it, you’re like, “Oh my God, she’s gonna fall!”

How did she not fall?! Was she strapped in somehow?

No! The chair is just hooked to the table.

You’ve worked with Beyoncé for years.

I’ve been with Beyoncé since 2008, starting with “Single Ladies.” This whole era — the “Formation” video, the Super Bowl, Lemonade, then the Formation Tour, then MTV VMAs — it’s been a crazy year, as far as performances! Her goal was to perform the entire album live, so last night was my wrap-up to that: “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” were the last two records we haven’t performed live, so it was a great way to end the Lemonade era.

Lemonade was such a groundbreaking project. What did it mean to you to be a part of that creative behind the scenes?

It’s so mind-blowing working with Bey. Every time we come back, she’s pushing us to the max to push outside the box, to do something different, to, go “Okay, we’ve done that; how can we push the limits even more? How can we dance differently? How can we showcase the girls differently? How can we make our people proud?” With Lemonade, it was all about going back and really focusing in on culture and making an impact and wanting to change mindsets and understand that we all can be great — everyone can be great. Any time that she has a vision and wants to do something, it’s like, “Okay, here we go again.”

What’s it like working with a modern icon?

Every time we’re back at it, you can see the growth in her as a woman. Now that she’s gonna be a mother of two [more] — and you saw the growth once Blue came — how she switched … She’s such a great mom, and she really does a great job at growing and taking all the things she’s learned from motherhood and [implementing them in her art].

So what do you two have in the works next?

We’re still waiting to see what’s going on with Coachella [laughs], so I’m looking forward to that! [Laughs]

Yeah, she’s gonna be very pregnant in April! How’s that gonna go?

We’ll see what she decides to do! But I know I would love to see her just rock out to her music, doing nothing — just let her do her thing.