Making, showing and seeing – why?

Madli Pesti*

The article was first published on October 15, 2015 on

In the beginning of golden October the Writing Movement Network met in Iceland, in a small village of Laugarvatn, in the middle of a bare, smoking country. The network brings together dance writers from five countries: Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. The hostess of the event was Sesselja Magnusdottir, dance critic and teacher from Iceland. She confronted us with three essential questions, that at first hearing may sound naive or even banal. But how much do we really go back to the basics and ask us what we are really doing? How often do we take time to ask the why-questions? The roaring rainstorm outside our cosy house and the possibility to look at the endless horizon inspired and stimulated our thinking process.

The basics we tried to get answers to, were: why making a dance performance, why showing a dance performance and why seeing a dance performance? Of course, the answers to the questions are intertwined, but let’s take the difference in the answers as part of the game. Also, as it turned out, most of the answers we found, could be seen from three different viewpoints: idealistic, realistic and pessimistic viewpoint. How is the gradation going in the following, is the reader to decide. See it as a small mindgame.


Why making a dance performance?

–The urge to communicate how one perceives the world, to communicate one’s thoughts and feelings.

–To create new emotions.

–To offer an experience for people, both on and off stage, being focused on the process.

–To display the unknown, to search for the unthought-of thoughts, focused on the sensing of the process.

–To provoke discussion in a different way than in other forms of expression.

–To deal with human affairs.

–To be part of the art making process and not being interested in the final product.

–To consume yet another dose of drug: the performers get an immediate reaction from the audience and this need becomes as a drug.

–To feel the power position in the performer-audience interaction.


Why showing a dance performance?

–To influence the world.

–To influence the audience.

–To change the way an audience member thinks, to show ways of thinking the audience has never thought of before.

–To express group dynamics, to bring forth the communal and the political aspect of a group, both on and off stage.

–To manifest the power of a group.

–Wanting to share the art that has been made and be part of a community. There is more power in a group than in one person.

–To offer an experience to the audience and stimulate something in them.

–To offer virtuosity, show something that the audience can’t do on their own.

–To reflect yourself in what you see on stage – to activate the mirror neurons.

–To make a performance together with the audience (participatory art).

–To share doubts together in a common room. To ask questions and not giving answers.

–Exhibitionist reason: artists want others to see them.

–To show that artists know the truth and an urge to deliver the knowledge to the audience (enlightening pedagogical thinking).

–To show for provocation: communication can sometimes be one-sided.


Why seeing a dance performance?

–To experience more and more: a drug for the audience. To create new experiences for body and mind. Also sensing and doing is activated beside seeing. In the neoliberal society it’s about experiencing new things, one has to be challenged and be active. We are living in experience economy: memory itself becomes the product, the „experience“.

–To go through rituals: theatre as a place for God.

–To sense the human touch.

–To get new perspective or get reconfirmed.

–To explore yourself as a theatre goer: how do you watch, what are your reactions (egoistic goal).


Contributors: Inta Balode, Sesselja Magnusdottir, Anne-Liis Maripuu, Moa Sahlin, Kamma Siegumfeldt, Laima Slava.

Report on the discussion at Laugarvatn, Iceland. 4.10.2015.

Foto: Laima Slava


*this text is as result of the LAB 2 of The Writing Movement Network that took place in Iceland (Laugarvatn and Reykjavik). The Writing Movement Network is supported by The Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture Short-term network scheme.

Madli Pesti has an M.A. in theatre research at Tartu University, Estonia. Her M.A. topic was “Political theatre in Estonia and Germany in the 20th and 21st century”. She has a B.A. in Scandinavian Studies specializing in Danish contemporary drama. She has studied at the university of Aarhus, Denmark and at the Free Univesity Berlin as an exchange student. Since 2009 she is continuing her research as a Ph.D student. At the same time she is working as a lecturer at the department of theatre research at the University of Tartu. Her teaching areas are performance analysis and theory, political and applied theatre, world theatre history of the 20th century. Since 2002 Madli Pesti has been writing theatre critics for Estonian cultural magazines and newspapers. Since 2015 she is the head of the Estonian Theatre Researchers’ and Critics’ Association. 2015–2017 she is curating the program of the new performing arts center Open Space (Vaba Lava) in Tallinn, Estonia.

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