As she debuts a film for the Veuve Clicquot Widow Series, we talk to the dancer-turned-director using her art as a platform to convey her story
From visual alchemist Jesse Kanda, to genre-defying musician Arca – FKA twigs is renowned for tapping visionary collaborators and dancer-turned-director Imma is no exception. Born and raised on a farm in Montgomery, Alabama, Imma met twigs by chance on a Matthew Stone shoot last year, where they immediately bonded over a mutual love of Japanese dance form, butoh. Since then Imma has become part of twigs’ inner circle, collaborating with the singer on her self-directed film for Calvin Klein’s SS16 campaign and now working as assistant director on her current ‘Rooms’ project that she’s curating as part of this year’s Veuve Clicquot Widow Series – an ongoing tribute to the eponymous widow Madame Clicquot.
One of twigs’ most ambitious creative offerings to date, ‘Rooms’ unites 12 set designers and 30 dancers to chronicle her personal journey through the zodiac chart, during which she encounters a different character in each room. “twigs called me from New York to discuss the role of Capricorn,” says Imma. “She said she had a particular person in mind, then read out their phone number. I wrote it down like an idiot before realising it was mine! She wanted me to perform, too!”
In addition to her work on ‘Rooms’, Imma has created a film for the Widow Series, directed by Oscar Hudson and executive produced by Jack Howard. Dressed by the Gareth Pugh Archive, the film is a personal performance that interprets the story of Madame Clicquot, while also being symbolic of Imma’s current journey undergoing hormone replacement therapy. Here, she discusses the transcendent qualities of dance, realising the weight of her existence, and why Gareth Pugh’s work represents her and her current state as a woman.
What was it specifically about dance that had you hooked initially?
Imma: I was fascinated with the constant challenge of trying to meet a goal. When you’re a dancer you start the morning with a class, take a lunch break, rehearse all day, do a matinee performance, and then you perform all evening too. I became obsessed with the lifestyle – the endurance and dedication it took. I’ve kept that mentality to this day.
How does dance make you feel now that you’re older?
Imma: Differently – now it has meaning. When I was younger I didn’t have life experience or a story to tell. I did what my teacher told me to do – execute steps. Now that I have more life experience, it’s not about the steps. I think, ‘Okay, what can I put out there that people will really relate to?’ That’s where I’m at. Now that I’m going through my transition and I’m in a place where I actually have things to tell people about I’ve realised it’s not about how high someone can jump, or how amazing their arabesque is. It’s much deeper than that – it’s transcendent in a way.
How did you meet FKA twigs?
Imma: I actually met twigs haphazardly through a shoot with Matthew Stone last year. Matthew Josephs, the stylist, called me as they needed people who were comfortable wearing high heels and women’s lingerie. I went, and it turned out to be the twigs shoot. Matthew Stone took to me because of my body awareness on camera, the dance came though and he’s really into that fluidity. It was right time and the right place. twigs was there, Matthew was there, the styling was amazing and everything fell into place. At lunch, twigs and I started talking about butoh and how she had just discovered it. I’d always been a fan of her work. We exchanged numbers and from there she’s just taken me with her.
How has your experience provided you with a platform, or the opportunity to make your voice heard?
Imma: I’ve been able to inform people about the misinformation about not only people of colour in the arts, but a trans person of colour in the arts, in the fashion industry, one that’s standing for difference. It’s been intimidating at times, but really incredible. Before I deleted Instagram a month ago, I saw it as a way to convey my story, my truths. There was a certain validation that came from that, not through the comments, but through the amount of followers I would get and the constant support. I’d get messages from someone being like, ‘I’m a 13 year old trans girl and you really inspire me with the way you carry yourself, and the way you dress’. It’s amazing getting messages like that. I didn’t realise the weight of my existence prior to this. I just thought, ‘Well I’m trans and I’m going to be open about it, if I put all my shit on the table nobody can judge me’. That was my mentality, but the wrongness that I was carrying brought this positive feedback and amazing support. I couldn’t be more thankful for it.
How did you feel when Veuve Clicquot asked you to collaborate with them?
Imma: Firstly I was really shocked they brought me on board. I know it’s something we’re trying to get over, but it’s a big deal asking a trans woman of colour to re-visualise such a major brand with complete creative freedom. Madame Clicquot’s story was very relatable to me. After her husband died she inherited this huge business. I’ve always been obsessed with this idea of femininity and madness. I thought about how women didn’t have the right to own anything back then and the things that she must have had to deal with. I correlated that to how I feel now going through my HRT, transforming from a 30-year-old boy to a woman. The hormones are driving me crazy, I feel like I’m losing my mind! So I worked with the idea of femininity and madness. At the start of the film I reach down to the portrait of Madame Clicquot and it’s supposed to symbolise me absorbing that madness, transforming into a state of womanhood. I also wanted to revise the idea of being a widow, so that’s why I had the veil on the entire time. At the very end my eyes turn that orangey, yellow Clicquot colour – I am the Clicquot woman, the transformation has happened.
“At the start of the film I reach down to the portrait of Madame Clicquot and it’s supposed to symbolise me absorbing that madness, transforming into a state of womanhood” – Imma
What did you think of the Gareth Pugh couture looks that you wore?
Oh don’t even get me started! I absolutely adore Gareth. I was following SHOWstudio back in 2007 when he was doing those real club kid looks – that’s how I found him. When Lauren Anne Groves the stylist emailed me to say which pieces Gareth was sending my jaw dropped! On the day we had other clothing options but I was only wearing what Gareth sent. I worked three looks into the film.
What is it about his work that you relate to?
Imma: I feel like his work represents me and where I am in my state as a woman. His work isn’t confined by any constraints. It’s all about pushing ‘the now’ and addressing ‘nowness’ – he tries to insert difference into societal norms. He constantly questions things. What does it mean to be a woman without hair who’s fully covered in tattoos? What does it mean to be completely subdued or totally consumed with madness? He puts things front of people without babying them by saying, ‘How do you feel about this?’ Just puts them out there and leaves them. For the people who get it, they get something from it. For the people who don’t, they just miss the boat until next time. That’s how Gareth’s clothes are, sometimes you get it and sometimes you’re like, ‘What is that? Why?’ Sometimes it’s not for you in that given moment. For me, those clothes were the perfect fit.
On October 27th and 28th, members of the public can attend The Veuve Clicquot Widow Series, ‘ROOMS’ by FKA twigs. Tickets are on sale now. For more information and to register your interest: www.veuveclicquotwidowseries.co.uk