It’s an amazing trick, still. In a voice-over, Beyoncé says she tried to make the show as “graphic” as it could be, which would seem to refer to bold shapes, bright colors, and other elements of clean, militant bombast. But she also talked about fussing over mini details, and now the world can rewind and scrutinize them as well. Someone’s seen stitching tiny jewels in a constellation pattern to the top of a beret. Beyoncé, fatigued post-pregnancy, struggles to learn intricate hand choreography. She says she personally picked each dancer, wanting to showcase “different characters” in the ensemble: unique faces, unalike body shapes, personal ways of moving.
This was smart stagecraft, hypnotizing spectators with mass movement and surprising them with divergence. It also served a deeper purpose. Beychella, as the event was nicknamed, celebrated historically black colleges and universities, which is to say it was an outpouring of pride in black traditions and excellence. Beyoncé played teacher, and her teaching text was the body. “It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us,” she says in the film. “Black women often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process … I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty—thankful for their freedom.”
Motivation such as this has long been her mission, expressed in what appears to be her favorite kind of choreography: the formation. Pop stars and marching bands both, of course, routinely order human beings into synchronized onenesses. But in Beyoncé’s case, a shiver of excitement often comes from slight difference. For the performance of “Partition” at Coachella, she sat at the bottom of her bleachers, with a single-file line of women extending up the pyramid behind her. As she opened her legs, they opened their legs. But they did so microseconds behind, for a waterfalling effect. It was like a hall of mirrors, but with each reflection her own person, with her own agency.
Some of the most blazing moments, in fact, came when Beyoncé surrendered or shared the spotlight. Ligament-twisting ballerinas, the fluid-and-robotic breakdancers known as Les Twins, Francesca Simone’s heavy-metal shredding, Solange jerking and high-kicking: The excellence was diverse, and viral stars are already emerging from the film (hello, Bugaboo Rocket!). Homecoming spends a little time with a few team members’ personal stories but puts more focus on simply watching their talents at work. Beyoncé’s voice-over makes clear that she’s as amazed as the viewer must be: “The things that these young people can do with their bodies, and the music they can play, and the drumrolls, and the haircuts, and the bodies … It’s just not right! It’s just so much damn swag.”