Modern Dance Reviews

Tomi Paasonen: WOW YES

Tomi Paasonen [direction and choreography]
Simo Kellokumpu, Justin Kennedy and Helga Wretman [performance]
Ayumi Kito [light]

Dock 11, Berlin, August 2009

Performers try to engage the audience actively but they seldom dare more than sporadic and symbolic actions. Ambitious companies, including one which has a budget of several millions and regards itself as a leader in modern dance, so far failed in such attempts.

Tomi Paasonen found a recipe that works: Remove distance by placing performers and audience into the same space, start slowly, get people used to interacting, intensify it gradually and see how far you can go. WOW YES is a proof of the concept.


The stage in Dock11 was filled with 50 randomly scattered chairs while the area where the audience normally sits was empty. Tomi Paasonen was already sitting in a chair close to a wall while people oozed in. Eventually the room was full but nothing happened. Five minutes, ten minutes... The audience started chatting.


Suddenly the lights went off, loud music blasted the room and spotlights started flashing random spots. After fifteen seconds the sound vanished (no music any more for the whole evening) and the ceiling lights were on again. Now the room was quiet (the purpose of the intermezzo) and we heard loud breathing coming from the back of the stage. Two performers disguised as members of the audience were groaning, coughing and gasping for air in their chairs as if they were struggling to breath in a pungent atmosphere.

The breathing got louder. Simo Kellokumpu and Justin Kennedy stood up and walked among the audience, prompting people to exchange their chairs. They used gestures and words "yes" and "wow". "Yes?" accompanied requests, "wow" expressed satisfaction and gratitude. Gradually the interaction grew more physical and intimate. The performers pushed chairs with people sitting in them and even carried them around. They touched legs and shoulders of the people, threw themselves into laps, asked women for their jewelry, and made people help them take off their shirts. One of the highlights was when Justin Kennedy laid down on the lap of a young Asian lady and prompted her to slap his buttock. She did not want to. He used body language to persuade her, slapping his buttock repeatedly with his own hand while still lying on her lap. Eventually she did, and was awarded by an applause.

interaction with audience

In the middle of the piece the performers removed some chairs to form a narrow corridor in the middle of the stage and presented a series of duos on fighting: a cockfight, duel of knights with swards, fighting with revolvers, machine guns, hand grenades... The term pantomime is rarely used in contemporary performance, probably because it is associated with white makeup and loose trousers. The emphasis on facial expression in modern performance gave birth to a different pantomime, which is intense and physical, goes without makeup and is not completely barred of speech. Yet it is still mime art or pantomime. Simo Kellokumpu and Justin Kennedy are not just excellent performers and dancers, they are also superb mimes. Their vivid performance lasted for 75 minutes but they never lingered or indulged themselves in the highlights: each gag and action was just as long as necessary, immediately followed by the next one.


Their interaction with the audience reached a higher level when performers made groups of audience perform by their order. One group was standing on their chairs, stretching their arms and making "Bzzzzzz..." sounds. Others ran circles around their chairs, another group was bowing with arms waving up and down as if they were washing clothes in a river. Many things happened at the same time at different parts of the stage.

of the audience

Unnoticed, the third performer entered the stage. Helga Wretman's upper body was wrapped in a fur blanket and her face was concealed in a cover with many sunglasses attached, so that her head resembled an insect or extraterrestrial. Her lower body was clad in high cut underpants of the kind used by pole dancers in night clubs, and she wore high heal gold shoes. She crawled through the room, squeezing her body between the legs of the chairs, touching people's knees with her buttocks, climbing onto their laps and exposing herself from a close distance. That reminded me of Ines Birkhan's performance on this stage two years ago. She danced with her head and face covered and the lower body naked. Remarkably, Helga Wretman's bold action possessed certain qualities valued in ballet. Firstly her movement appeared smooth and effortless since she rolled up and down the knees rather than climbing them. Secondly her body did not seem to impose much weight and she limited the use of her hands to pull herself up. Finally, in contrast to Simo Kellokumpu and Justin Kennedy, her performance did not show physical effort. This technique together with Helga Wretman's dehumanzing masquerade were instrumental in endowing her interactive sequence with a distinctive imaginative quality for those who watched her. Those who were involved in direct physical contact might have perceived the situation as more complex.

vamp chimera

After Helga Wretman became acquainted with most of the audience, she crawled towards the wooden steps in front of the stage where the audience normally sits. On the lowest step she sat down facing the stage with her legs wide opened. She remained in this position at each step for a couple of minutes and then moved up to the next. The insect-like head of her took the posture out of the context of pornographic stereotype.

Justin Kennedy and Simo Kellokumpu took off their trousers, showing golden boxer shorts. They created a series of bodybuilding themes spiced with some erotic, but the drive of the performance diminished noticeably. The slow-down was probably intentional, aiming to condition the audience for the next highlight.

Helga Wretman climbed the top step, stood up, took off the cover of her head and released her long blond hair. Then she turned her back to the audience, took off her underpants and put on a white dress. Transformed into a stupid girl, she opened the last part of the performance. While Simo Kellokumpu and Justin Kennedy played low-key stories about businessmen and gambling, she clumsily and with fidgetyness recited quotations about money. For each text she picked a member of the audience, brought him to the stage and involved him as a dummy holding a glass with money. The quotations ranged from stupidities such as "In remote villages in Tibet people use dried shit as money" to dull advertisements: "Why work for money when money can work for you!" In her interpretation even quotations from Tolstoy and Goethe sounded stupid. After each reading she clapped her hands and giggled while leaping for joy.

girl and money

What happened to the businessmen (banksters?) played by Simo Kellokumpu and Justin Kennedy? They turned into dogs and Helga Wretman chased them out of the room. Very current, indeed.

The last topic of the performance was money, but Tomi Paasonen apparently did not obtain any support for the project because he writes on his website: "This reality was produced without money."

Tomi Paasonen: WOW YES with Simo Kellokumpu, Justin Kennedy and Helga Wretman, Dock11 Berlin

Photo and text by Petr Karlovsky