While Beyonce’s stunning performance at the Coachella festival last weekend took months of planning and rehearsals, one dancer says there will be some surprises in store for the singer’s forthcoming set Saturday during Coachella’s second weekend.
“Yeah, we’re switching up a couple things, so there could still be a wow factor,” teased Jo’Artis Mijo Ratti, who served as one of Beyonce’s dancers during her weekend-one performance.
Variety spoke exclusively with Ratti about preparations for the complex and meaning-laden performance and what it was like to work with Beyonce herself. (Note: While the first weekend’s performance was livestreamed, the second will not be, a YouTube rep confirmed. Presently there is no site legally streaming Beyonce’s performance, nor are there plans to re-air it, a rep for the singer told Variety.)
“She kills the moves just as hard as the best girl that’s doing the choreography,” Ratti, who has also worked with Madonna and Kelly Rowland (and was the first shirtless male dancer in Beyonce’s show’s middle segment), recalled of the rehearsals. “It makes everybody in the production as a whole want to step their game up.
“You can always tell when someone is prepared,” he continued. “We did like 10-to-14 hour days. That was very similar to the Madonna situation and really coming to work fully prepared to dance. Some jobs you might chill — craft services, read a book, hop on your phone — for a couple hours, but not while we were there [with Beyonce]. We were getting put to use with ideas, fitting, wardrobe, video blocking. It could be really overwhelming, but luckily, it wasn’t my first rodeo.” He also mentioned that Beyoncé’s “army of female dancers” were the best he had seen in his career.
The performance was not only wildly exciting to watch, it was loaded with deep references to black culture, particularly the Greek culture at the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities — a reference that was further solidified by the singer’s announcement Monday of $25,000 awards to four HBCUs. As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Ratti also revealed that he “never” expected to be presenting black Greek culture on such a big stage.
“To come in on my first day [of rehearsals] in March and see that the concept was dealing with HBCUs? That was a bit of a process,” said Ratti, whose audition took place in December. “Every day, I took time to be thankful for this opportunity. We’re in America and we already know what we’re dealing with [as African-Americans and in the current political environment], which is why the Divine Nine was built. So to see it presented at Coachella, I was like, ‘Woah. These people have no idea what’s about to happen — they won’t even understand it.'”
The Divine Nine is a collective term used for the nine black Greek-letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which was established in 1930 at Howard University. Unlike most intercollegiate fraternities and sororities, the NPHC organizations are a lifetime commitment for its members and even have membership intake after college.
Joe Brown, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, was one of the main choreographers for Beyoncé’s Greek tribute in the show.
“That’s why you see a lot of the Alpha vibe [in the segment] — I’m the only [Omega] bruh dancer that’s rocking with the camp, so of course I wanted to put my two cents in,” Ratti joked. “But the fact that they are even celebrating this, I’m like just make sure that this sh– is tight and let’s stay as true as we can.”
Ratti said it was obvious that Beyoncé had done her research, adding that she wasn’t afraid to ask Greeks for their input.
“The ‘make me laugh’ [segment during the performance, where Beyonce and the female dancers were unimpressed by the male “Bug a Boo” dancers’ attempts at humor] — the attitude of that lets me know that she had to ask some in-depth questions to even get those types of characteristics,” Ratti said. “The feel of that was right on the nose” in reflecting the black Greek pledging process.
Ratti noted that Beyonce made it a point to incorporate elements of black excellence from all across American life, not just campuses. Ratti is an originator of Krump dancing, a style created in his hometown of Los Angeles and later popularized by Chris Brown. Saturday’s performance also featured the dance originator of Flexing, a street style dance from Brooklyn.
This was a proud moment for my path in life. (To be an African American) The Enthusiasm this production performed with last night was undeniably the most powerful feeling I’ve ever had has a performer. To be apart of something so dear to me, both my connection to the Divine 9 as a representative of sprig 08 UofI XAA Omega Psi Phi fraternity incorporate and a founder of the Krump movement. I’m deeply honored to be on this stage with every single one of these artist. Thanks you @beyonce for the opportunity & thanks @jaquelknight @chrisgranted for making its shit happen.
He added that Jay-Z attended practices frequently and even hyped up the dancers. “I’m an underground man, so I never thought that I would be at rehearsals busting a move, and Jay-Z is out here hyping me up,” Ratti recalled. “That’s crazy, I would have never thought it was a regular [occurence] at her rehearsals.”
Ratti also asserted that Beyoncé’s was completely hands-on and nurturing throughout the entire process. “She’s like an auntie,” he said. “Super-kind and very particular about what she wants. It made me do even better because I understand that she’s a real artist. She’s not just letting somebody take over her vision.”
He said she was equally focused on how the performance would render on the livestream. “We spent so many days just blocking for camera,” he recalled. “There were so many people from cinematography coming in, rigs, the camera work was incredible. Their post-production is just as important as the on-stage performance, and they really took time to figure that out.”
Ratti doesn’t remember specifically how Beyoncé introduced the concept to everyone on his first day at rehearsals, but he does have a take on her goal for the epic production.
“I believe the majority of black artists want to celebrate African-American history, invite people to a culture that is not exposed to the majority — to continue to push equality and fight for a cause that is now, kind of, not so subtle,” he said. “That’s what I believe she was trying to do.”
Beyoncé returns to headline Coachella on Saturday, April 22.
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