It’s been over a month since Beyoncé released Black is King, a visual album featuring Jamaican synchronised swimmers and many are still wondering how that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came to be.
Well, Olga Novokshchenova, President of The Island Aquatics Synchro Club, has shared how it all went down in a sit-down interview with artiste manager, Steve Wilson.
Novokshchenova, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, said it began when she was contacted by a US agency seeking black synchronised swimmers a year ago.
After saying she had about 10 young swimmers, the woman on the other end of the line told her they would be needed in Los Angeles, California; one day’s notice! With no details yet shared on the secret project, Novokshchenova said she was emailed a non-disclosure agreement which she had to sign and return before being told any more.
“I told the girls to get ready but do not count on it too much because we don’t know if it will happen. We were in touch with the agent, they kept calling with updates. So late Thursday night, they say it looks like it won’t happen tomorrow. I said girls go back to school, forget about it,” Novokshchenova said.
However, days later she was contacted and informed that Beyoncé had seen photos and videos of the girls and wanted the entire team to fly out for the shoot, not just the more senior members who were initially discussed. “And I said you realise that I sent the very best on the team. Everybody else is young. She said ‘Yes, we want all of them to join us’. I said ‘Okay, when do we fly?’ They said ‘tomorrow’. They said they are going to send the parents a non-disclosure agreement as well. Still, in disbelief, we decided we weren’t going to do anything unless we felt safe.”
After some reassurance from a former teammate, now living in LA, that the opportunity was likely legitimate, Novokshchenova had an emergency meeting with the team members’ parents to get written permission before they all departed.
Shooting with Beyoncé
“They filmed for two days. On the first day, we waited forever. The film’s location was at a mansion with a pool and a lot of different people. There were singers, artists, children, and adults – everything. They organised lots of different costume changes and as one group comes films, they leave, Novokshchenova said.
“The girls only got one practice in the pool, which was very cold, but they managed. The choreographer provided clear instructions on what he wanted to see in the water. Then the coach from Aqualillies sent videos and instructions. They created a short routine and then on the second day in the evening that’s when Beyoncé came down to the pool with the girls and filmed.”
“Every shot was done a few times, many repetitions, everything was nice and friendly and well-organised. There was a child protection rights representative monitoring because four of the girls were minors. She was very strict about the littlest one in the group was only is seven-years-old. She said she can only work till 6:00 pm. At exactly 6:00 pm, she had to leave, even though she wanted to stay.
“The whole experience was very professional – very well organised, we were treated very well and even stayed in a nice hotel. They also provided transportation to and from the hotel.”
With the excitement of the film’s debut lingering, Novokshchenova said having a pool built in Port Antonio, Portland for her team to train and to be able to accommodate other people is her “dream”.
“We’ve swum at different hotel pools and private houses but nothing quite fit. I had to sell my apartment in Moscow and build the pool we are currently using on my property. The problem is that it’s far outside of Portland so the girls have to either take private taxis or walk up the hill. If we could get a public swimming pool in Port Antonio, believe me, so many kids would take swimming lessons, speed swimming, and synchronised swimming classes.”
For his part, Wilson said, “I’m an advocate for promoting the entertainment and sports industries. We need to showcase the very best of our Jamaican talent and how ever I can use my platform to do so, I will.”