A decade before she began inspiring breathless admiration with her series of minimal, glitchy, r&b-tinged singles (and their accompanying videos, brimming with a raw — though often metaphorical — sexuality), FKA twigs came up in London dance clubs, starring in a number of pop-music videos as a backup dancer. With the release of last year’s critically acclaimed LP1, twigs shifted from the shadows into the spotlight, sharply chronicling her move to stardom on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Video Girl.” More akin to eccentric performance artist than traditional pop singer, twigs produces work that defies categorization while defining her own unique sensibility. As a celebration of all that, twigs performed three sold-out nights of her electrifying, choreographed epic “Congregata” in a Brooklyn warehouse, part of Red Bull Music Academy’s brilliantly curated annual NYC takeover.
“Congregata” is a Latin word for “coming together,” and in that spirit, twigs collects all the elements and inspirations that have shaped her career and her work — most notably, her closest friends from London’s dance scene, who performed a kind of contemporary dance–meets–vogue competition that the audience may have been unlikely to come across otherwise. The entire show was built around this collusion of bodies and expression through movement, with twigs playing both a central role and, more than once, sitting back and letting each of her dancers shine in their own right, including a showcase of voguing legends that brought the house down midway through the set.
For the most part, though, “Congregata” was more like an opera than a traditional concert, or seemed to find a totally unique middle ground between the two. Including newest singles “Glass & Patron” and “I’m Your Doll” alongside select material from LP1 and twigs’ prior EPs, instrumental interludes connected clusters of three or four songs at a time, stretching the length of the show to nearly two hours.
While the songs melted into one another, there was never a lag; the production was a visual and sonic feast that could’ve gone all night. And as compelling as FKA twigs’ atmospheric, slowly paced compositions can be on record, they took on a whole new life as interpreted by her backing band, who played an array of synths and electronic drums that faithfully replicated her album’s sounds with an urgency turned up to the nth degree. There were strings, too: A violinist played a beautifully arranged version of “Two Weeks” while twigs twirled in an iridescent red shroud.
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Elsewhere in the set, lighting played an integral part: Strobes highlighted a series of dramatic poses in a sexual pantomime during “Papi Pacify”; later, twigs would become a human disco ball as she weaved through a wall of red laser beams that reflected off her silvery vest, evocative of the myriad paintings of saints radiating holy light. For someone who makes music that is often associated with a startling austerity, FKA twigs pulled out all the stops to create something truly memorable.
At the end of the show, twigs spoke for the first time the entire night. She praised New York as a source of creative stimulation, she thanked choreographers and managers and each of her performers, and she delivered something of a treatise on the difference between cultural appropriation versus giving muses full credit. Her words were especially resonant given the maelstrom that befell Celebrate Brooklyn! and BRIC Media Arts when they failed to invite any performers of color, any of the original cast, or anyone from the current ballroom scene to a screening of seminal ballroom documentary Paris Is Burning set for later this month. (They have since expanded their lineup after a successful #ParisIsBurnt campaign and petition.) As if any reminders were needed, twigs ended the night by calling out each and every dancer for an encore performance of freestyle voguing, laughing delightedly from a seated position onstage before taking a bow with her friends.
It takes billions of years for stars to form in the heavens, as nebulae of dust and gas come together in a gravitational collapse until the compression at the center of the pull spawns nuclear fusion. Watching “Congregata” was like seeing that process over the course of an evening. With the offbeat genius of Björk, the provocative sensuality of Madonna, the cultural mishmashing of M.I.A., and a vision wholly her own, twigs gathered everything into her ever more intimate spiral, casting a fresh and brilliant light in all directions. Three years into her career as a performer in her own right, it’s incredible to see that star being born, and it’s very clear from the ambition behind “Congregata” that this is only the beginning.