Choreographed by William Yong/Zata Omm Dance Projects

Performed by Johanna Bergfelt

The Citadel, Toronto

January 30 to February 2, 2019


Reviewed by Beverley Daurio


SKOW is a full-length solo work by William Yong for the powerful and elegant Johanna Bergfelt, with ingenious lighting by Simon Rossiter and a minimalist set design that includes large paper “rocks” that light up, small, defined “performance areas” and an old fashioned black dial telephone. Bergfelt first appears facing away from us, straightbacked and speaking into a mic, spotlit in front of a vast, crinkled back wall covered with white paper.

The program notes tell us that this work intends to “create a kind of soliloquy from personal experience” and is an “expression of inner musings.” Indeed, the work proceeds in episodes of varying lengths that jump like thoughts do, through time, mood, and memories. Bergfelt dances with angular extension and incredible flexibility within set geographies within the stage—in a rectangle of light, along a short line of carpet, exploring within these limits the extension of limbs and of the body, travelling through the kind of time that the stage represents.

Bergfelt is dressed in a squarish brown lace over-vest, a t-shirt, beige capris and a blond wig that she later removes. The music is an odd collection that begins with the haunting tinkling of a jewellery box and goes on to include a variety of sounds and songs, from eighties lounge music to harsh, comic jazz.

In one sequence, the entire back wall is lit with moving, active, graphic images by Elysha Poirier, and Bergfelt is at once dwarfed by and an energetic participant in the acrobatics of light by echoing the drawings with physical acrobatics of movement, including a handstand at the back wall.

Another sequence, possibly the most dramatic in the show, has Bergfelt rolling a mic’d silver medical cart on wheels to centre stage and performing surgery, telling us what she is doing as she proceeds, using cleavers, pliers and other brutal tools, on a gourd, a parsnip and carrot and lime—demonstrating how hip replacement surgeries are done. The bald straightforwardness of her actions and her talking us through this segment, until she literally staples the gourd closed again, is charming, comic, and oddly educational.

At one point Bergfelt calls out “the black cat,” and begins a comic dance to jazzy cartoon music. Much later in the show, Bergfelt announces “black cat again,” and this time, dressed in a furry black cat outfit with ears, she proceeds to prowl across the stage, as the crinkled paper back wall glows red.

A phone call from her father asking about her hips resonates with the earlier surgery section, and adds weight and meaning to the “operation” section.

There is also much humour in this piece, which insists on a goodnatured insistence on fun as an element of art. With her back to the screen, facing us, Bergfelt precisely speaks a crying woman’s lines from a tender love scene with Clint Eastwood in a film, including all the woman’s sighs and sniffs. Bergfelt’s performance amplifies the screen romance, humanizing it and rendering it more immediate and strange.

Those who put together this show have succeeded in their stated intention of twining together “the profound and the ridiculous” into an emotional, visual, very human collage.