FKA twigs Soundtrack 7 @Manchester International Festival Review
I made my way to Granada Studios slightly unsure of what, exactly, was going to happen. Chances to see rehearsals for FKA twigs’ Soundtrack 7 pieces had sold out within days of the Manchester International Festival booking site opening. I was surprised then, that a cursory glance over the profile for twigs’ residency there showed available bookings for the final event, whatever that might turn out to be. As a huge fan and admirer of her work since her debut release EP 1, I decided the gamble was worth it, even if it was just a showing of the filmed performances uploaded to her Tumblr for the festival. I bought the ticket. In fact, I bought two tickets – the performance caught the attention of my dad, who previously had been privy to twigs’ work only when hearing snatches of her LP drift downstairs, and from my gushing statements to my parents over the dinner table that she was the future of pop. I’d seen her perform only a month or so earlier, dynamic and perfect at Field Day festival. We’d squeezed through the crowd, left a performance early so that we could get a spot near the front of the tent. And there, finally, she was – her voice and her body living out these feelings of loneliness and sensuality and desperation and love, a festival tent of thousands rendered intensely intimate.
It’s this presence, this undefinable ‘it’, that essence pondered for centuries and resisting manufacture or label, that twigs has. This ability to feel so fully, and in turn to make us feel. It is rare, and special, and it holds us rapt and leaves us always, always wanting for more. Even when she is not on the stage, as she is fairly often not in Soundtrack 7, she leaves her fingerprints all over. This may seem obvious – she has, after all, directed and produced the show. But that this quality of hers hangs around every aspect of the production is no mean feat. My queries about what was actually going to happen (I was still unsure after reading the blurb on the MIF website circa 20 times) were soon answered, and what I been anxious to hope for – a live performance – was what we got. We were to witness the first official performance, sat on rows of black blocks; the loose queue outside the studio door meant that we were able to essentially sit at the front, level with the stage. The room darkens, a smoke machine hisses out purple clouds onto the stage, and the disembodied yet unmistakable voice of twigs reads out poetry, statements on love and death and desire. A shirtless male dancer starts to dance to her LP1 standout ‘Closer’, using his physicality and grace to mirror the anguish and pain captured in the song. His chest rises, as if involuntarily gripped, to the cries twigs emits. “All those years in isolation” is the lament, made almost choir-like, a private spirituality of loneliness and faith, embodying in the dancer’s fluid yet desperate movements. The section ends, and I find my eyes are wet, my mouth hanging open comically. When does twigs does come out she is mesmerising; strong and lithe and powerful.
The show is divided into 7 pieces – each a vignette from twigs’ life, inspired by her feelings and experiences. Weaving them together is her narration between the acts; meditations on life and death and want and loss, a more explication statement of the themes of the pieces. The set is kept generally stark, aside from a thrilling section set to EP2’s ‘Ultraviolet’ in which dancers weave in and out of video images of themselves. Unable to fully contain their partner, they must instead caress and stroke only their replica. Part of why twigs is so exciting is that she seems to exist in a more queer, more diverse space. Gender and sexual fluidity are wrapped into the fabric of the performances; a section deals with a scene of violent, toxic masculinity which ends with the pairing together of two male dancers, as well as twigs herself dancing sensually with both female and male dancers.
The performance ended, a standing ovation was given, and we filed out onto the unusually sunny Manchester street. As my father and I discussed the performance though, my mind kept returning to the memories of desperation and loneliness and need I’d seen inside, and the intimate truths of that small, dark studio.