From Beyoncé and Cardi to Brands: JaQuel Knight Dances Into the Director's Chair

It's the next step in the choreographer's career

"Big brand world, here we come!" enthuses JaQuel Knight, who recently signed with London Alley for representation as a director. The creative entertainment studio is renown for making commercials as well as music videos.

A creative director and choreographer hailing from Atlanta, Knight made a splash in the entertainment industry in 2008 as the choreographer behind the dance routine for Beyoncé’s "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" video.

Knight would go on to collaborate with Queen Bey on other projects, including Super Bowl performances and her Formation tour; the Coachella show that was filmed for Netflix's Homecoming documentary; the Black Is King film; and music videos from the Lemonade visual album. 

Knight's credits also include the video for Cardi B's "WAP (featuring Megan Thee Stallion)"; Shakira's half of the Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show; and music vids for Miley Cyrus, Pink and Kelly Clarkson.

In the commercial world, Knight directed a :30 for Starbucks a few years back that finds Chance the Rapper going through his day and enjoying the brand's ready-to-drink coffees.

More recently, Knight served as a choreographer on the "Belvedere Vodka Presents Daniel Craig" commercial that features the Bond star strutting his stuff in Paris. Also, as a brand ambassadors for H&M's "Move" campaign, JaQuel has shared the screen with Jane Fonda. 

Here, Knight discusses why he wants to direct and the types of brands favors. He also explains how choreography led him to a spot behind the camera.

MUSE: What was it about London Alley that made it feel like the best spot for you as you pursue commercial directing?

JaQuel Knight: London Alley has always felt like home—family away from home. I've been working with them in some capacity for over 10 years, and I have been enjoying the way they've been elevating within the world of music videos and the commercial landscape. The support and love is real, and it's that sense of trust that allows me to tap into my true artistic self and dream big.

Why are you interested in the ad world and directing commercials?

Growing up in Atlanta, I have always had a huge taste for culture. And understanding how authenticity is paired with dance and music is a huge passion and interest of mine. I've helped artists be on the pulse of culture. And I've come to a point of wanting to be a bigger part of that innovation, having now achieved a certain artistic freedom to be myself.

Can you tell me about the experience of choreographing the Belvedere campaign directed by Taika Waititi? I'm wondering if you were thinking about getting into directing spots at that time, and whether you sought advice from Taika.

It's Daniel Craig! How much more explaining is there? He's probably one of the coolest guys—if not the coolest guy—in the universe. Spending a few days with him in his home, seeing him be as human as possible and watching him transform into a true icon on set was an awesome experience. Being able to have a front row seat watching Taika navigate it all was amazing. Taika is not afraid to take any risks.

What kind of brands would you like to work with, and what do you bring to the table as a director?

Any brand dealing with culture, music and tech that are looking to break the status quo and do something truly innovative and rhythmic is what I'm after. I believe my understanding of music and dance—and being able to choreograph all aspects of the set—lends itself to shooting the action from a new POV. Understanding people and the stories they come with allows me to bring a fresh perspective.

How does your work as a choreographer and image architect inform your work as a director? In my mind, choreographers are directors.

Choreographers are absolutely directors! My work as a choreographer has had a direct impact on the organic transition to directing. I've spent many years studying how to tell stories through dance, and I've gained an understanding of guiding talent and narrative through movement. 

Creating dynamic visuals is something I'm thinking about from the start when I choreograph. Listening to the music in my car, in the studio, in the rehearsal room. Meticulously crafting each frame. And the narrative component has been a natural evolution. That comes from a deep understanding of collaboration and communication. As a director, you see all of these same elements in play, and I've been empowered to think outside the box in guiding artists and brands.

Can you tell me about how you are able to work so successfully with some of the most creative people on the planet?

My idea of working with celebrities is to identify their strengths and who they are as people—the person before the celebrity. That allows me to have a genuine connection, vibe and chemistry with them, to understand how they speak, their language and how they see the world. And also understanding where they want to go as artists. Once a true understanding and connection has formed, then we're able to conquer whatever it is we've set before us. And I'm able to guide them along the way.

How many times a day does someone ask you to tell them about working with Beyoncé on the "Single Ladies" video?

It's more like how many times a day does someone stop me to show me that they know the dance! 

Christine Champagne
Muse contributor Christine Champagne is a writer based in NYC.

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