How Es Devlin Set The Stage For Beyoncé's Renaissance
The Renaissance tour was such a success; what was the creation of that set like?
That particular artist, Beyoncé, is such a renaissance woman. She is a complete perfectionist. She is a conductor of energy; she sees that as her role, that’s what she was put on this earth to do. A performer’s clothes are their armour and for her to get over that protective device to showcase young designers’ work is so generous of spirit, and a brilliant way to culturally interweave.
We were making that show over many, many years. It really only came together quite late. I said, “Well, why don’t we just do a hole?” She and I relate to each other quite a lot, in that we’re both working mothers. A lot of the work she’d be making during the pandemic was about the tension between mothering her art and mothering her children. This idea of a hole: the hole within you, the hole outside, the giving of the hole, the receiving – all of them, it’s endless! And this combination of the geometry of the frame and the circularity of the hole in the frame. She and I both just respond to that.
She doesn’t get tired; it’s extraordinary. When we were rehearsing the show, me and Fatima Robinson, the legendary hip-hop choreographer, would finish the rehearsal… at 2:30am, so by the time we got out of the venue, it was 3am. We’re in the cab going back to our hotel and Bey was texting Fatima going, “Right, shall we do notes?” We’re going to bed!
In the book you explain that for the Renaissance tour, Beyoncé’s references ranged from rodeo culture to redlining. How did those conversations start?
Redlining, I had only learnt about through Compton . Beyoncé had been thinking about that a lot herself, completely independently. Her mother, Miss Tina, grew up in Galveston on that kind of funny spit of land in Texas. Interestingly enough, Florence Welch, her great grandparents came from Galveston as well – obviously big, white, wealthy oil barons who had a big house. They both come from the same place, but obviously a completely different experience. Beyoncé’s mother, as a Black girl, wasn’t even allowed on the beach. While, you know, the stories in Florence’s family are about horses being trapped in the stables when the flood came. And Beyoncé’s very curious. She’s a big researcher, she loves poetry. She wants to dive in and she’s very hungry for meaning. She’s got kids; she doesn’t want to bother unless it means something.
Beyoncé was interested in country; I think she had had a really bad experience at a country music award show, and she wanted to research its African-American roots. She discovered that 50 per cent of cowboys were Black, in the 19th and early 20th century, and country music, of course, has been largely appropriated. She wanted to reappropriate Americana and country music from a Black perspective, hence the cowboys and why they are wearing red. They are her eliding those two ideas of redlining in those towns and the cowboys. She made a series of extraordinary films during lockdown out yet.