DANCER FROM THIS IS IT TALKS ABOUT WORKING WITH MICHAEL
On Stage with Michael Jackson
Local entertainer Kriyss Grant, the first dancer chosen by Michael Jackson for his “This Is It” tour, discusses what it was like working with the “King of Pop.”
On the influence Jackson had on him: “I was really brought up with Michael Jackson. My grandmother bought me ‘Moonwalker,’ [the 1988 film that showed, among other things, Jackson in concert] which is something I watched every day. ... I wanted to be just like that. ... I would always try to perform. If there was a party, a family reunion, anything, I would dance and perform for everyone.”
On his audition: “I was scared. And I didn’t think I was going to get it. But I went. ... It was a three-day audition period. Thousands of dancers [4,000]. Michael came the third day. ... I had never been on tour. I was the newest dancer from Florida. Everyone else was from L.A. and had worked with and danced backup for other artists, so they had that on their resume. I had [MTV’s] ‘Making the Band’ on my résumé.
“Had Michael not been there, I don’t think I would’ve been picked. ... Michael saw me, he saw the feeling in me. I saw him jump up while I was dancing, but I didn’t know what he was reacting to. Later, they told me that he was reacting to me and how he saw himself in me.”
On meeting him for the first time: “When we stepped off the stage to go meet him, he was like the statue on his ‘History’ album. He was dressed in all black, he had the glasses on. And his hands were really big and firm; they took over my entire hand. ... He told me I was amazing. ... I was just staring at him. I think I told him he was awesome. I don’t know.”
On his personality and energy: “Michael was the type of person who would look at you and know, like that, what you were all about. ... He was say certain things like he knew you. He knew I was nervous. He’d tell me to save my energy for the crowd. Always positive, but it was also like [the comments were tailored] to us.
“There were times when I’d feel the energy of the music, feel his energy, and I’d be dancing all out. And he would stop and look at me. I thought maybe I was going too hard, doing too much. But he’d shake his head and smile, like whatever I was doing was a good thing.”
“He was very warm. I’d never felt anything like that. I was so happy. His energy was like no other.”
On rehearsals: “Michael would come in occasionally in the beginning. ... He didn’t start rehearsing with us until we moved to the Staples Center. He was killing it, going full out, doing slides and everything—it was crazy. ... As soon as that music would come on, he’d start killing it. We’d look at each other like, ‘Is he trying to outdo us?’ ... He still had it. He proved that. ... But he was nervous. He was 50, and he hadn’t danced like that in a long time. He had to familiarize his body with all those moves he used to do. I think he was scared; he couldn’t take the stage and appear fragile to us.”
The last rehearsal: “He was his old self. He was interacting with us, giving us suggestions, making changes. In the beginning, he let everyone else run things. Then, he was like, ‘This is my show. We’re going to do it how I want to do it.’ I loved it. That’s something I always wanted to see. I thought he was being taken advantage of in the beginning because he was older. ... And you could tell he had something to say, but he wouldn’t say it. But that last day, he took over.
“He knew what he wanted. The dancers were like, ‘Good, he’s speaking up.’ The dancers had Michael’s back.”
The day Jackson died: “We didn’t know what to do, what to say, where to go. It was this feeling of you finally getting to where you always wanted—of finally making it. And before you get to grasp it, it’s snatched away from you. ... It’s like a tease. I touched it, but did this really happen? I have memories, but there was no time to sit in that moment and really feel the vibe. Everything happened so fast, fast, fast in rehearsals ... And then, it’s all taken away.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet. I know I was a part of it. I know it was a big deal to be a Michael Jackson dancer on the ‘This Is It’ tour that never happened. ... I don’t think it will ever hit me.”