The only earthly approximation for the dancers in FKA Twigs' Congregata, a three-night run of shows presented as part of RBMA's Festival New York, is Dhalsim, the Street Fighter character whose chief power was to stretch his limbs beyond the limits of biology and imagination. But, unlike the crew of krumpers, bone-breakers and voguers that joined her on stage last night at the Brooklyn Hangar—a vast, sweaty Sunset Park venue usually reserved for raves—Dhalsim was made up of pixels. The bodies that surrounded Twigs as she ran through reimagined versions of songs from her EP2 and LP1 projects were all muscle, bones, and coiled joints.
The sexuality of Twigs' music, visuals, and performance aesthetic are oft-discussed, and are a product of both the thematic content of her work and the fact that she often appears more expressive with her body than she is with her music. On stage last night, the sexual energy was palpable, as she falsetto-ed her way through songs like "Papi Pacify" and "Pendulum," on which she sings, You forgot how we fell in love/ I'm your sweet little love-maker. But much of that sexuality had little to do with Twigs herself; unlike other artists, whose performances center themselves as vessels of the audience's desire, Twigs' interaction with her dancers—and the dancers' interactions with each other—pointed to an idea of human intimacy that goes beyond the act of actually having sex. With limbs entangled, simultaneously pushing and pulling, the choreography created pure physical tension. While in her recorded output Twigs regularly addresses her own sexuality and sexual encounters, which are often interpreted as heterosexual, Congregata's influences and its strongest points are decidedly queer. Intentionally or not, she wound up presenting a sort of utopian version of the world, in which gender and sexuality are truly accepted as fluid, along with the more tangible concepts of genre and art.
As much as the syncopated, breakneck choreography that earned her her stage name, it's Twigs' ability to catapult the Hangar into another dimension that impressed most; throughout the nearly two-hour performance, she transformed the space into a 13,000 square-foot version of Escuelita, the famed 39th street nightclub that has housed much of New York's ballroom scene for decades. For many of Congregata's 2,150 attendees, it was likely the closest they'll ever get to the community whose art, fashion, and slang is so often mined by pop culture—a truth Twigs directly addressed by ending the show with a claim that she "doesn't believe in stealing things" without properly acknowledging their origin, hence the involvement of krumpers like Dominant of UK dance crew Wet Wipez and legendary New York voguers like Leyomi Mizrahi and Alex Mugler.
The show takes its name from the Latin word meaning "to gather." But more than simply bringing together her collaborators with a couple thousand zealous fans, she also drew on the many storied influences that led her to this point. From running around East London as a kid with big ideas to dancing back-up for popstars like Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, all of the elements that prepared her to pull off a show of this magnitude so early in her career are represented in Congregata. As the show enters its second sold-out night tonight—not even a full year after a considerably smaller gig headlining Webster Hall—Twigs is asserting herself as neither dancer nor singer nor music producer, but an artist with a vision that's bigger than herself.
Lead image credit: Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool