It’s hard to find the words to express how one feels after seeing Björk perform, and I’m certainly not the only who feels this way. When she walks out on stage, her presence has a way of slapping a big smile onto your face. The experience of Björk’s second and final “dress rehearsal” show in Iceland for her upcoming ‘Utopia’ tour was no exception. We were invited into her Utopian audio-visual spectacle that was a complete immersion of the senses into her world; a place that radiated with beauty, softness, and femininity.
When myself and about a thousand others entered the Háskólabíó theatre, we drew a collective breath when the stage came into view. Giant flowers and foliage sprouted from the floor and hung from the ceiling, like a window into an overgrown rainforest. In the centre was a tall cylindrical structure covered in what looked like feathers. Or maybe reeds. Or maybe leaves. Whatever they were, they were dancing in a breeze as we quickly shuffled to our seats, soaking it all in to a soundtrack of birdsong. The stage was a wild jungle in shades of pink, red, gold, and lush green. This was indeed a place where everything looked perfect–an evolution of Utopia.
The show began when the stage centrepiece revolved towards us, revealing Björk, and Viibra—her seven-part flute ensemble—and an oversized orchid sculpture that had a very strong resemblance to a vagina. ‘Utopia,’ as an album, delves deeply into the topics of sex, gender, motherhood and femininity, so it was no surprise to see that this phallic flower as the focal point for the eight performers. To their left was Björk’s regular percussionist Manu Delago, and to their right, the album’s engineer, Bergur Þórisson, on beats and backing tracks.
All the performers wore floral, slightly alien “orchid_bone_fungus” headpieces, as their designer James Merry has referred to them. Björk wore a red insect-inspired dress by the extraordinary designer Kaimin, while the septet wore peach tunics and tights by the talented trio threeASFOUR. Together, they looked like a masked tribe emerging through the fog of a lost island paradise.
As the soothing opening sounds of “The Gate” rang out, we were warmly welcomed with the lyrics “I care for you, care for you” as a crystallised VR Björk-apparition fluttered and flickered over the screen above. Her perfectly choreographed nymph-like flautists danced in unison as their instruments sparkled under the stage lights.
“Arisen My Senses” came next, and was a real highlight. Accompanied by harpist Katie Buckley, each beat was met with an explosively blooming flower on the screen above. I couldn’t help but look around to see the reactions of the audience around me and sure enough, the majority of us had our mouths open in awe.
With ‘Utopia’ being performed almost in its entirety, back-catalogue songs “Thunderbolt,” “Pleasure is All Mine” and the Icelandic version of “Anchor Song” were also included. The hour-and-a-half-long set took us through the emotional gauntlet, beginning with the joyful themes of love and rebirth, segueing into anger and loss in the middle, and concluding with a sense of warmth and comfort to be home.
It was a night where Björk celebrated love, femininity and the idea of ‘Utopia’—and we celebrated with her.
Björk played at Háskólabíó on April 12th 2018. Read out in-depth ‘Utopia’ cover interview with her here.