If you live in New York you’ve probably seen them everywhere: the advertisements plastered on the sides of buildings, in every subway, and across every billboard. This year’s Red Bull Music Academy has presented a stellar lineup of musicians, participating in discussion panels and giving spirited performances to throngs of music-lovers itching to participate in something huge right before festival season takes hold. Tahliah Barnett, who is much better known by her moniker FKA twigs came together with Red Bull this month to finally bring something truly special stateside. Congregata, a sprawling 2-hour performance that incorporates the majority of her influences spanning her entire career in art and dance. As the sun set on the aptly located Brooklyn Hangar, we all pushed through the doors in hot anticipation of what was to come.
Minutes before 10pm, the lights dimmed, and amidst a smoky backdrop, her dancers ascended the stairs set right in front of the stage, accompanied by a lone violinist lending a sweet and urgent melody to the building tension. When twigs stalked out onstage, the collective screams of everybody packed tightly into the 13,000 square foot space was all encompassing. Revelers of all ages, some dressed remarkably similar to twigs with intricate hairstyles to match, others in simple jeans and tshirt stretched their arms and craned their necks to get a glimpse of the singer. While small in stature, twigs’ years of dancing have armed her frame with an intricate network of muscles, each put to good use. As the third song sparked to life, I was allowed forward to take photos of her. Her gaze instantly fixed on us as we watched from below. I likened this gaze to a queen gazing down from her throne.
I can only describe Congregata as one of the most ambitious performances I’ve seen in quite some time. Her dancers were unbelievably talented, from voguing that was jaw-droppingly fantastic, and included the legendary Leiomy Maldonado, to krumping back and forth across the stage without missing a beat, limbs contorted into seemingly impossible shapes, backbreaking drops to the ground in lightning speed. There were multiple costume changes and a carefully constructed light show that would even make Beyoncé jealous. The choreography was calculated down to the minute and offered an unfettered look into what it takes to pull off a performance of this magnitude. As the temperature rose to sweltering heights inside the building (that was sadly not ventilated in the slightest) things were also heating up on stage as twigs brought a lone male dancer on-stage to perform “Papi Pacify,” gyrating around him and eventually straddling him suggestively. The British singer is undeniably sensual, and effortlessly so. Her command of the stage, her songs, and over the audience was unflinching. Other sections of the show that left me astounded were the curtain of red lasers that danced haphazardly off the sequins of the costume she wore, one of her male dancers throwing her high above him while strobes gave the appearance she hung in midair, and during “Two Weeks” a swath of red gossamer fabric danced high above her head with the aid of fans below, but seemed to move under her will alone.
Taking a moment to thank the crowd and mentioning her humble beginnings in New York a little more than a year ago, twigs’ joy was palpable and punctuated by her giggles at the crowd’s unwavering adoration each time she went to speak. “I don’t like to take things as an artist, and I don’t believe in stealing things, and I don’t believe in not respecting where things come from,” she said. “I believe that everybody I work with, it should be for a genuine reason, not because they’re the coolest, or it’s the hot thing at the moment or it’s a hot sound. All of the people in my show today, they’re my friends… Everyone I work with, they’re a part of who I am.” This declaration came across entirely genuine and brimming with endearing humility, and out of the corner of my eye, seeing the wide smile her beau wore made it clear that this is a side of Ms. Barnett that not many get to see on a regular basis, but is just as important as what she presents to us each time she takes the stage. What twigs was able to materialize onstage with Congregata was inspired, staggeringly meticulous, and executed with the precision and steadfast confidence in vision, creativity and integrity to one’s craft. She’s only just begun to show us what she’s capable of.
Article: Lesley Keller