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FKA twigs dances Martha Graham: “This is art in its truest form”


The rebellious spirit of Martha Graham found a rebellious kindred spirit in another creative powerhouse. A classically trained dancer, she is known worldwide as an acclaimed recording artist. It moves like water. Her pole dancing is pretty amazing, Also. These are FKA twigs.

THURSDAY, she will make her debut as a dancer with Graham’s company in the solo “Satyric Festival Song” (1932). “For me, honestly, it’s like winning a Grammy,” she said. “I feel like I won a Grammy.”

At the company’s gala, FKA Twigs will slip into her costume, a bold and graphic striped dress designed by Graham. She will jump into the air like the ground is on fire. She will twist and bend her body into jagged edges. And she will tease the audience with head tilts and dancing, expressive eyes. It is a solo inspired by the rituals Graham observed in the pueblos of the American Southwest, particularly the kachina figures that served as comic relief during religious ceremonies. Graham also made fun of his serious and dramatic personality.

An artist of vast imagination whose music defies genres, FKA twigs is adventurous in all her activities. Her shimmering, fluid physique, displayed over the years in videos and performances, is equally fearless and flexible. “My values ​​of success and accomplishment are maybe a little different than other people,” FKA Twigs said in an interview from London. Many of her colleagues will be at Coachella over the next two weeks, “which is obviously a great honor,” she said. “But I’ve spent my whole life in a dance studio. I studied Martha Graham technique at dance school. I took the class several times when I was a younger dancer.

The Graham company, however, was unaware that it had studied the technique. So how did this solo go? Thanks to this unofficial dance network known as Instagram.

Last year, the company posted a pandemic period video of Laurel Dalley Smith performing “Satyric Festival Song” in different locations in London. Being a Graham fan, FKA Twigs reposted it. The company thanked her in a DM and offered to do a project together. “She immediately sent us her manager’s contact information,” explained Janet Eilber, the group’s artistic director. And as the conversation progressed, Eilber said, the company asked, “Would she like to dance a Graham solo?”

The solo suits FKA twigs well. “The attitude in ‘Satyric Festival Song’ is so flirtatious and comical and offbeat,” Eilber said. “And it’s one of Graham’s few solos where the fourth wall is lowered, so this little character is basically talking to the audience and having his way with them.”

Dalley Smith I learned to solo at FKA Twigs and a series of Graham exercises in London (and FKA Twigs will continue to work on them in Oh, New York, at Graham Studios). “It wasn’t just copy and paste, put it in, learn it, do it,” Dalley Smith said of the process. “It’s recognizing someone who’s trying something new, recognizing someone who doesn’t want to follow a certain path.”

Her artistic courage echoes some of Graham’s beautiful words: more than 80 years ago, she told a discouraged Agnès de Mille to “stay open and aware of the impulses that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

For FKA twigs, the channel is wide. She is committed to being “bold and dynamic and really making art,” she said. “And I mean Really make art. I’m not talking about looking really fabulous on a red carpet, really slaying in my music video, or really being a queen in a radio interview.

She is grateful for these opportunities, but artistic excellence is what matters to her. “When I die and take my last breath, these are the things I’m going to think about: What have I done with my life? ” she says. “I mean I was kind, I worked hard, I served my practice and I made art. Next week I will serve my office.

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

What did you find difficult solo?

Endurance. It starts with very big jumps. I haven’t jumped since I was probably 22. (Laughs) Even in the dancing I do now, whether it’s pole or even contemporary, if I were on stage, I wouldn’t choose to do nine throws in a row.

So start a performance with nine really energetic jumps and then continue as usual in a very controlled, heavily contracted Martha Graham manner? You know this is something I’m going to have to work on.

What came most naturally?

The playful nature of soloing and expression. It’s really cute and funny. You turn your head and it’s kind of like: Are you looking at me? Do not look at me. I will demand your attention. Okay, now look away.

What is your dance training?

I trained as a ballet dancer. I was like a real idiot when I was a kid. I used to do my homework in the car on the way to dance practice, and I would practice for four hours after school, Monday through Saturday. I did this from the age of 8 to 16. I then dropped out for a few years and moved to London to go to dance school. My journey as a music artist actually involved moving to London to attend dance school.

If I’m honest with you, I have a really strange dance history.

How so?

I started dancing professionally when I was 12 or 13, I was in a dance company called ZooNation, which was a street dance or hip-hop based company – although it was also contemporary. I did that and then I trained in dance.

And then I moved to London to go to dance school, and I kept dropping out. By the time I got to about 19, 20, do you know what the problem was? I just peaked a little too early in dancing.

You dance when you sing. How is this different?

Over the last few years, I’ve really tried to focus on the type of artist I am. Within my industry, there’s a lot of pressure to seek certain accolades, whether it’s releasing a certain amount or winning certain awards. With the Martha Graham company – performing a routine – you can’t fake that.

It’s pure craftsmanship. It is a pure practice and it is an expression. This is art in its truest form, which is so rare these days. Honestly, it’s one of the best things I’ve done in my career.

For what?

You can’t fake an extended leg, you can’t fake a turn, you can’t fake a performance or hold an audience. And for me, that’s so exciting. It’s just in my hands. Whatever happens, it will be the truth.

How do you see the Graham repertoire compared to what you usually dance?

I have always practiced classical and contemporary dance. It’s different, I suppose, because it’s a very well-known and revered work. And it is very sacred. This is something that is really important to remember and pass on. It’s like a secret or a folk song. I’m a half-Jamaican girl from Gloucestershire and I’m going to New York to learn a piece of Martha Graham. On the contrary, it is not proof for me. It is a testimony of her.

And this is an example of art in its truest form?

Exactly. We have such extremes in society in dance, in music, in expression – as we should. But the East a Holy Grail. And it’s Martha Graham, it’s (Lester) Hortons, it’s Alvin Ailey. It is the purest form of dance, of expression, of practice. It’s not just Martha Graham, it’s Martha Graham technical. It’s not Horton. This is the Horton technique.

It’s something in your toolbox that, once you study this form, will stay with you in everything you do. I could apply Martha Graham to pole dancing. I could apply Horton to pole dancing. It’s a way of thinking.

What is so critical about this performance?

It’s really important for my mind. There’s a 12-year-old in me who didn’t go play with her friends at the park. She went to the dance studio instead. My friends were going out, playing in the park, drinking cider behind the bike sheds – I wanted to do all these things but I was in the studio. This young girl! I feel like by playing with Martha Graham Company, in a way, I’m giving her a hug. I let him know it was worth it.


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