If there is a defining aesthetic to FKA twigs’s extensive oeuvre of music videos, it’s how richly textured and experimental they can be. The English singer and producer has unsettled viewers by dancing alongside a simulated lethal injection, hosted a trippy vogue-off in the woods, and played both a queen and the legion of tiny dancers who move below her. She frequently manipulates her body, physically and technically, in her videos and artwork, becoming a blow-up sex doll or making bondage gear out of her own hair. Twigs’s film world is as freaky as her music, and we’ve come to expect her to push the boundaries of the music video lens.
But her latest video work, Soundtrack 7, is a far more bare-bones effort. Last year, when FKA twigs completed a seven-day dance residency at the Old Granada Studios for the Manchester International Festival, she came away with a filmed version of her performances. Soundtrack 7, which premiered worldwide last Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is a collection of these daily dance numbers, strung together with twigs’ narration of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “I Find No Peace,” a 16th-century English sonnet that she’s used before in her work, with “Preface,” the self-loathing intro track from her 2014 album LP1.
Soundtrack 7 is unabashedly minimalist: The set is the studio’s empty stage, and a group of about a dozen diverse performers clad in nude and white dancewear make up the cast. The focus here is mainly on the bodies at work, as arranged by English choreographers Aaron Sillis (who's worked with Katy Perry and Rihanna) and Ukweli Roach, and those bodies’ ability to provide narrative insight. In a sequence accompanied by her recent single “Good to Love,” twigs dances with a lone male figure who fails to keep her in his arms for long before she jumps to a group of men who seem to offer her more violent sensual pleasures. In another, set to a new song titled “What I Wanna,” featuring the rapper Lucki Eck$, a male dancer struggles to break free from a line of men who shackle him to the ground with their bodies.
When flourishes do emerge in this spare setting, they come in the form of flashes of red light, fog machines, and very brief video clips. In one particularly striking segment, set to the song “Ultraviolet” from twigs’s 2013 EP2, three dancers move in front of three video screens that play life-size dancing version of themselves, layering on top of one another and switching spots to create a sort of tangled digital ménage à trois. Twisted cabaret-esque choreography with chairs defines a segment set to “Numbers,” with twigs playing lead to two back-ups as spotlights flicker on and off between them.
“I wanted to create something that felt stripped back,” twigs said in an in-person Q&A after the film’s premiere. “Over the past two or three years, I’ve been living by the mantra [that] you can't copy talent, and you can’t copy training. It’s not heavily costumed, it’s not about the makeup... It's about a group of people who have devoted so many hours to training in dance and training in feeling.”
Dance has always been a defining aspect of FKA twigs’s work, but Soundtrack 7 zooms in on the form with new focus. An accomplished dancer who once spent years in the background performing for others, twigs has settled into a career where she is finally an artist on her own terms. And while her live performances and even more elaborate dance shows like “Congregata” are often centered wholly on her, Soundtrack 7 plays like the work of a collective, one in which twigs is often not the star. Where she could have centered her residency on traditional solo performances, she instead lets her peers — many of whom, she explained, are close friends and former dance partners from past studio work — take the spotlight. In the Q&A, she said that she gave the leading role of the fierce, animalistic “mother” in the film’s violent “Mothercreep” segment to a friend who had never been given a lead dance role in a production before.
While FKA twigs provides the clear voice and vision of Soundtrack 7, the playing field for its dancers is completely level. This creative choice reflects the same instinct that inspired twigs to host a free impromptu dance class in Baltimore recently. Less a showcase for twigs’s own abilities — which her fans know well — her new film is instead a novel platform for the personality and range of professional background dancers who are more often required to do far less in music videos. “I spent my whole childhood working in a dance studio to learn how to feel music, and then the pinnacle of my dance career is just put your arm out on one,” twigs said, raising her arm to demonstrate. “I found it so depressing. When I work with people to my music, I always say, ‘If you want to be a backing dancer, can you leave?’ As an artist, I don’t want to inflict that [background career] on anyone. I want dancers to showcase what they’ve trained in.”