We speak to longtime FKA twigs collaborator Theo Adams about Magdalene, the singer’s new show which is “a bold reimagining of how music can be staged by a recording artist in the 21st century”
Theo Adams Company – a London-based collective of artists, designers, dancers and musicians – is, as founder and artistic director Theo Adams admits, difficult to define. Having worked on theatrical productions, films and fashion shows, with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Fiorucci and the Tate, the company’s ever-growing portfolio is made up of one radical spectacle after another. Its latest undertaking is no less impressive: FKA twigs’ enchanting new show Magdalene.
Magdalene was co-conceptualised by Adams and twigs, who worked with a team of choreographers, costume designers, lighting specialists, set designers and make-up artists in order to bring their visions to life. The collaboration, Adams explains, was a democratic one that required multiple voices and a diverse range of skill sets. “My job was to articulate an overall journey and vision of the show and then let everyone get on with it and do what they do best. twigs and I are both perfectionists and care about the big picture and the tiny details so nothing was left to chance. This is a bold reimagining of how music can be staged by a recording artist in the 21st century.”
For those who have been to see Magdalene, it will come as little surprise that the performances were inspired by a concept with the name of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, roughly translated as ‘total work of art’. After a three-year hiatus, twigs’ debut is a masterpiece: she sings, she dances, she works the pole and performs Chinese martial arts, all while wearing exquisite Baroque-inspired costumes. “Our aim,” Adams tells AnOther, “was to utilise different artistic elements – like music, dance, fashion, pole dance, Wushu, score, set design, illusion and lighting – and harmoniously bring them together with equal importance to stir all the senses for both the audience and the performers.” The innovative show, above all, prompts us to reconsider musical performances and the ways in which audiovisual art can be communicated.
The visual interpretation of music is central to every production staged by the multidisciplinary collective. “All the work Theo Adams Company has ever done starts with the creation of a soundtrack anyway,” Adams says. “The creation of Magdalene felt like a very natural way to work, having the music as the project’s foundation. Each song is a scene advancing the show forward both narratively and emotionally. Getting the setlist right was fundamental in making the show work theatrically.” The visuals for each scene grew through the subtle transitions between twigs’ genre-bending songs, resulting in a seamless set of experimental vocal and physical performances. Having been a backing dancer herself, the singer’s ability to tell a story lies as much in her graceful choreography as it does in her lyrics.
The multi-sensory spectacle was not without its difficulties. “twigs has been spending the last year learning new skills. Pole, Wushu and tap,” says Adams. “The challenge was to create a performance that would include all of these, in a way that flowed and didn’t feel like just impressive separate ‘skills’ but intrinsic moments pushing the emotional journey of the show forward.” The execution of these skills, moreover, had to be flexible and versatile. “The other challenge was creating a show that could be toured. I usually create projects that are site-specific. So a big challenge was to create something that would work in a Victorian Music Hall one night and then in a field on a festival stage the next.”
With Magdalene, Adams and twigs are building on an existing creative partnership, which started in 2016 with the immersive theatrical production-installation entitled Rooms. “I have known twigs for many years now,” Adams recalls. “Matthew Josephs, her creative director, has been working with Theo Adams Company since its inception so the Magdalene collaboration sort of fell into place very organically.” The central thread that runs through both Adams-twigs partnerships is clear: intense, intoxicating and dream-like events that promise to provoke our preconceptions of performance art.
“Magdalene is 100 per cent an FKA twigs show,” Adams explains, “but it has all the signatures of a Theo Adams Company performance – the use of reveals, the repeated transformation of the multi-layered sets, the emotion and drama, and the twisting of theatrical stereotypes.” Magdalene is, in other words, a meeting point between two innovative minds. For Adams and twigs share a unique creative vision: both are redefining the intersection between fashion, art, music and performance and both push the possibilities of artistic representation into exciting, previously unchartered, territory.