That Grape Juice‘s latest feature ‘Meet The Makers’ spotlights the gifted names who engineer the spectacle in all facets of entertainment. Music, TV, and beyond.
Today’s instalment celebrates the work of the choreographer Hollywood.
A force in the world of dance and creative direction, Hollywood’s journey has seen him find a friend and collaborator in the ‘Lemonade’ pouring performer that is Beyonce.
Find out below…
“I was struggling and was interning and cleaning at Broadway Dance Centre in New York,” he begins when we first meet. What he received in exchange for services? “Lessons…they gave me lessons.”
Today he stands far removed from his reality of yesteryear, frantically making his way into a car when our call begins to ensure he isn’t late for one of the hundreds of lessons he now teaches when he’s in Los Angeles.
A staple on his Instagram account (@AyHollywood), said lessons are home to a generation of dancers hoping to use his expertise to find themselves in a position akin to his.
“I’ve always danced, but I was going to college and studying Liberal Arts and worked tirelessly in my local community to support underprivileged kids through dance. To be honest, my main goal was to be one of the few people in my family to graduate so dancing wasn’t always something I thought I’d do professionally.”
How things changed?
“In between school and working at the YMCA I would leave Boston and go to New York to audition for several gigs. It was difficult because I faced a lot of rejection, but in 2006 I was hired to work with Lil Mama on ‘GSlide’ and that’s when everything changed. People began to notice my work and I was asked to dance for Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ video. Then, her creative director Tanisha Scott was so impressed by the freestyle I performed she invited me to work with Rihanna on her ‘Last Girl on Earth Tour.'”
The rest, as they say, is history. For, the show’s commercial success would turn Hollywood into one of Pop’s more in demand creatives, sought out by Ciara as she prepared to shoot the visual for her single ‘Got me Good’, recommended by the parents of one of the younger dancers who would go on to dance in the release.
On its creative process he explains:
“Janet Jackson is one of my biggest references so I pulled from some of her earlier work when Ciara and I first started working together. The thing is, Ciara is such an individual that we ended up doing something that was completely unique to and for her. I think that’s why that video was so well received.”
“When I go in with an artist I ask to hear their music and ask them what they’d like to do. Then, I freestyle and spend a lot of time adjusting it in ways which accommodate the artist because they have perform what we’ve done and sing. So, what I teach in my classes are very different to what I give to performers, because my students don’t have to sing and dance at the same time in the way Ciara and Beyonce do.”
It would be his work with the former that would ignite his creative coupling with the latter.
“In 2013 Beyonce dropped her surprise album and I was outside of the U.S. which meant I was able to listen to the album top to bottom before people back home woke up as I was a few hours ahead of them.”
“So, I flew to LA and went straight to teaching. Now, don’t forget that I’d worked on Ciara’s ‘Got Me Good’ visual which featured a group of young girls who danced her with in it. They’re called 8Flavas, and one of the girls in that group took my class and went viral after she uploaded a video of herself performing moves I’d made to songs on the ‘Beyonce’ album.”
“Imagine my surprise when I get a call from Bey’s former creative director Frank Gatson who told me that they’d seen my work online and wanted to meet me with me!”
“At the meeting they asked me to create choreography for four songs One problem though, I had one day to do it…AND I was flying back to Japan in a matter of hours. However, where there’s a will there’s a way. So I asked them to put the songs they wanted moves for on a disk. I took it to Japan, worked on them, perfected them and shot my amazing dancers performing and then sent it all back…that day.”
What became of them?
“It took me months to realise how huge this was. Being one of the choreographers on the tour was monumental for me because it reminded me of how far I’d come and how far I could go.”
It would’t be long before the the singer’s ‘Feeling Myself‘ collaborator Nicki Minaj would set her sights on his gift.
The bad news?
“I was cut from my agency for reasons I’m unaware of, but I didn’t have long to feel sorry for myself. For, Parris Goebell (the Dancehall music-inspired choreographer behind Justin Bieber‘s ‘Sorry’) asked me to help her as she worked with Jennifer Lopez on her ‘American Music Awards’ performance where she performed ‘Anaconda.’
“That performance meant a great deal to me because it was the last project of mine that my mother saw before her passing.”
His hidden link to Lopez’ ‘Booty‘ and Minaj’s ‘Anaconda‘?
“I was working actually with Frank and Jacquel Knight on the ‘Booty‘ video but my work on it didn’t come to fruition because its director, Hype Williams, didn’t want to make dance a focal point in the visual.project. Casper Beau Smart (Lopez’ lover & Minaj’s creative director) was present in one of the rehearsals and he mentioned that he was working on ‘Anaconda.’ The rest is history!”
It isn’t long before our conversation takes us to the topic of “star-making” and what some might say is the absence of Beyonce/Prince– level artists in Pop’s new class.
He offered his theory.
“To create a new megastar you really need people behind the scenes who have the skill and talent to work closely with them to bring out the best in them. Unfortunately, the effort that used to go into supporting and nurturing these people and their gifts has gone because the job isn’t seen as being a glamorous one because it’s “behind the scenes.” So, the culture of artist development has died because everything nowadays is about instant gratification giving room for the dumbest things to become popular which has lowered the public’s tastes and standards.”
“Think of it this way. Athletes train hard before they make it, while they’re making it, and after they’ve made it which is why the talent in sport and the excitement around it remains high. People invest in their teams because they know they are made up of the very best.”
“I respect anyone who goes hard and keeps reaching and training for the goals. I have a great deal of respect for Beyonce because she made a decision. That decision was to invest in herself and her craft develop so she could go from being the girl interviewing Aaliyah on red carpets to being THE Beyonce.”
Do vocals matter?
“Honestly, I don’t believe its really about having a good voice but what you do need is presence and purpose. Not everyone can hit the highest notes and move you with their voice, and not everyone is going to deliver choreography that will move with you with their performance. I think it’s all about nurturing and making the most of each artist’s gift.
Today, I feel that the general public is spending a great deal of time and money on artists who don’t do either, but to each his own.”
A video posted by Hollywood (@ayhollywood) on
Our conversation comes to an end as he is greeted by his spirited class.
“I will achieve global recognition for my work. I will be respected and anointed within my gift,” he explains when asked how he hopes to be remembered when the dust has settled. “I want to produce and direct movies, videos and tours but more importantly, develop game changing artists and follow in the footsteps of those who pushed entertainment forward by developing the artists who inspired me.”
A photo posted by Hollywood (@ayhollywood) on
Interview by David Asante.