Earlier this year, ethnographic archivist, photographer and filmmaker Anaka received a phone call asking if she’d film FKA twigs in the lead-up to the release of Cellophane, twigs’ first new music in three years. Anaka, of course, agreed, and set off to Los Angeles to document the gruelling physical and mental labour that went into twigs’ pole performance, which makes up the majority of the cinematic Cellophane music video.
The finished outcome, entitled Practice and presented by WeTransfer, offers viewers an intimate look inside the singer’s day-to-day schedule: the documentary is made up of the early morning starts and late night finishes that go into producing a work of performance art. Anaka has spent the past few years recording concerts and making music videos while working on her ongoing project Artkive – an international archive of artists that has taken her to South Africa, East Africa, West Africa and America. This, in turn, has equipped her with the skillset required to document events as they happen with an open and honest disposition.
Practice is testament to the exhausting, behind-the-scenes work required of an creative process. This story is often far less glamorous than the finished product; it requires laborious training, fierce self-discipline and, above all, perseverance. “The film’s intention is to highlight how hard FKA twigs works on her craft,” Anaka says. “She literally learned how to do all of this in one year – which is crazy – so they wanted someone attached to her at the hip to showcase this process. I had a lot of freedom on my side in terms of creative direction, and I’m really honoured with how much the team trusted me to tell this story.”
Anaka’s documentary emphasises the process of creativity, the hours spent perfecting the pole dance choreography. For example: the camera often cuts from shots of twigs in a sports bra to clips of the singer in an embellished costume performing on the Cellophane set. The finished outcome, Practice shows, is only made possible by the hours of practice. The documentary also highlights the importance of determination and creative vision when Anaka dubs shots of the finished Cellophane performances with earlier voice recordings of twigs imagining the finale routine. Long-term commitment and drive is, in other words, as central to producing an artwork as creativity is.
“I wanted to focus on the ways that FKA twigs manifests her reality so beautifully,” Anaka tells us. “As I was filming a documentary, I kept the cameras rolling and literally shot everything – I have hours and hours of footage. It was during the editing process that I was looking for moments where twigs’ humanity really shines through. I also wanted to showcase how much her creativity flourishes by simply taking risks. The Cellophane music video is a dreamscape so being able to document it all coming into reality was quite surreal.” Despite her otherworldly choreography and graceful self-control, twigs emphasises the importance of listening to her body. In one scene, for example, she acknowledges that she trains like an athlete and that she therefore requires large amounts of protein, many hours of sleep and rest and daily stretching exercises.
Towards the end of the film, twigs’ voice is hear saying: “When you concentrate on one thing, something else is going to take a hit. Something always takes a hit; it’s like spinning plates. And that’s okay. That’s growing, and that’s life.” This, to Anaka, encompasses one of Practice’s central messages: “This statement is so important coming from an ethereal superstar like FKA twigs. It reminds all of us creatives that, as long as we focus on our dream, it can become a reality – but that other elements of our lives won’t necessarily be easy on the way. If anything, being a creative and focusing on your craft can make other parts of your life harder. As Cellophane shows us, however, these necessary sacrifices tend to ultimately be worth it.”