May 25, 2015. From VOGUE to Pop Sugar FKA Twigs is the hot story – for her talent and for her style.
Here is a review of the “Congregata” show at the Brooklyn Hanger, May 17. By Ben Ratliff in the New York Times.
The heart of FKA twigs’s enterprise is physical movement. It drives her songwriting; her spare and drip-drop percussive arrangements; her light, high singing; her startling videos; and the live transmission of her music. It’s the locus of her power.
After “Congregata,” a performance with a dozen male dancers and a four-piece band that had the first of three shows Sunday night at the stiflingly hot Brooklyn Hangar in Sunset Park, you may have left with dozens of still images and quick, strobelike flashes of body language in your head. Only on further recall, perhaps, would you connect them to sound.
On one level, “Congregata” was a cathartic and celebratory performance, with the dancers’ extravagant vogueing and krumping and ballet actions around her: pops from the chest, acrobatics, arm-and-leg contortionist moves, backward falls and high kicks.
But FKA twigs herself, in bustiers and corsets, remained for the most part stringent and slow-motion — bending at the knees, undulating at the hips, folding and expanding herself with wrists and elbows and arms, enacting physical or sexual control by grasping or shoving or enveloping her dancers, who in turn carried her or lifted her above their heads.
With a few exceptions — especially “Two Weeks” and “Lights On,” with dramatic swells and choruses — her music maintained its severe distance from commercial pop. Her songs never got away from her. They were subordinate to her.
She has played several shows in New York since her start, but “Congregata,” at a little under two hours (a version of which was performed in London in February), shows her at her most ambitious. With direction by Ryan Heffington and choreography by Aaron Sillis; costumes designed by her stylist, Karen Clarkson, and her mother, Bonita Barnett, as well as a few pieces by Alexander McQueen; and lights that strategically reveal or animate figures on stage, the performance represents the story of her aesthetics, complete and — by her own description — personal.
“There’s not really a concept to this show other than me wanting to convey to you how I was feeling at the time,” she said in a speech at the end of the last song. “That’s what I believe in.”
The concert, part of the monthlong Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York, contained about half of her recorded work, along with a few new songs — “I’m Your Doll,” “Glass & Patron” — and instrumental passages. Some of those passages had accompanying dance sections, and some involved a violinist who played sweeping, crying phrases. (As a finale, after the song “How’s That,” the band built up to a clattering wall of noise.)
FKA twigs’s voice may carry some R&B associations, but this is art-song, delicate or claustrophobic, pushing against narrative and tempo, ultraseductive while interrogating pop forms and pop images. “Am I dancing sexy yet?” she sang in “Glass & Patron,” amid sparse tones. “Are you watching me ’cause I move alone?”
Her band, on a riser at the back of the stage and barely visible in the darkness until the end, negotiated a convergence of digital-percussion beats, accelerating and decelerating and crossing through one another. They were composed patterns, straight from the records, but replicated in real time: Their hesitations and slight discrepancies formed an important part of the sound.
There are lulls in FKA twigs concerts, both in the stripped-down versions seen up to this point and in the fullness of “Congregata.” She doesn’t talk to the audience until the end of the set — given the mood of the music, it might seem strange if she did — and despite the visual beauty and rigor of the dancing, the songs can achieve a monolithic uniformity: one slow roll. Well before the end, there can be a need for release.
She eventually solved that problem, in a way, after she completed her set list, thanked the audience, and spoke her piece about the meaning of the show. Then the band set up a steady beat — proper funk, as opposed to what had come before — and she introduced her dancers one by one, each of them reprising the best of their moves. Sitting at the front of the stage, supportive rather than dominating, she laughed and yelled and cheered