About the Self-Presentation of an Artist

Madli Pesti

Article was first published in Estonian, in Estonian cultural weekly paper “Sirp”, 4th of March, 2016

It’s February again. It’s “Premiere” again. The debutantes are again on the Independent Dance Stage. For the eighth year. This time the debutantes of contemporary dance and performance are Joanna Kalm and Sylvia Köster. Chosen through an open call. Two best ones are chosen out of five. Crème de la crème of the debutantes. This year both artists deal with the theme of self-presentation of an artist. The performances are very different but they communicate with each other and in the end build up one consistent performance night.

Joanna Kalm, the graduate of the choreography department of Tallinn University and with an experience from London School of Contemporary Dance, asks in “Debutante”: “How do I wish to present myself as an artist? How to market and interpret artistic production that is based on intuition?” She wishes to present herself naked. She finds that this kind of approach is the only possibility to create the most honest and direct contact. She most likely thinks about the contact with the audience but maybe also with herself. The performer has in this case nowhere to hide, the same applies to the audience. The protective walls are not being built. Nakedness is here in a naturalistic and personal function, although a potentially market related function cannot be set aside. Indeed, the performer plays with this although the performance in itself is pretty serious and does not flirt with nakedness as such. The nakedness starts as naturalistic, it is also suggested by the full light of the space, and turns more and more personal during the performance.

Joanna Kalm is directing the space. She is tearing the space naked as well. She reveals both herself and the space. In this space she starts playing. She sings, gurgles, calls, cries, the sound of music is heard. Soon it’s clear: the artist is a product. Packaged. In a museum. In the museum there is also a small figure of lion with a wig. All kinds of things can be started there. I would not like to reveal everything that follows. Sublime Mozart can be heard. Soon the beginning and the end is nicely put together.

On the program notes Joanna Kalm introduces herself as “a modest expressionist who is interested in mixing everyday frequencies with serious absurdity”. Seems like a description well worked out– one can see all these components on the stage. The performer is expressive (otherwise she wouldn’t strip the clothes off!), but in a modest way: the performer moves and acts in quite a modest way, no special excesses. In the performance serious absurdity can be sensed: the small figure of a lion in a wig nicely illustrates this. And yes, Kalm mixes absurdity with everyday frequencies. For some time the space in the full light has an everyday feel, also the performer seems ordinary, just occasionally calling “pram-pa-ram”.



Sylvia Köster is studying dance at Viljandi Culture Academy and has taken courses in Dresden and Stockholm. The title of her performance is “Star” and the original impulse to start working with the material was a question: what is the inner urge for doing what we do? Köster chose a role of a star: the meaning of a star is played out in a direct and indirect way. The star is born but is not content with what there is and it is striving for higher and further. And again, it played out in a direct and indirect way – one needs to see the performance oneself. Köster deals also with the issue of self-presentation: a girl in a golden gown is moving her ass in a cool rhythmic music (sound artist Kenn-Eerik Kannike), saying: “look-look-look at me!”

Sylvia Köster’s “Star” is well made, it’s smart and humorous, but I feel that the artistic pain of Joanna Kalm is stronger. Kalm’s “Debutante” is content-rich, it’s not opening itself right away, it gives more to think about than visually interesting but content-wise simplistic “Star”.

There has been a decent team working for both of the debutante-artists: the performances are professionally and masterfully accomplished. The light designer is Oliver Kulpsoo – light plays an important role in the performances. Memorable are the purple and black flashes of light in “Debutante” and the change of the cold full light and the bland light of the museum. The atmosphere of “Star” is emphasized by the allusions of cosmos made by the light design: the appearance of a star out of nowhere and the magnificent laser show; enjoyable was also the work of the video artist Aap Kaur Suvi. The positive side of the performances is that they are both compact. Joanna Kalm had dramaturgical help from Johannes Veski: the performance has a clear pace and rhythm.



Still, how to judge the self-presentation of the two debutantes? The aim of the performances is to get the attention of the audience and I guess that was indeed achieved. Kalm and Köster are not naïve, self indulgent beginners. They try to get the audience discuss about how we present ourselves in everyday life. What are the means we use for that in different situations? The most important is, though, that these young artists will not disappear after their first effort. That they still find the need to delve into issues and have the lust of play.

*Publicity images from performances ” Debutante” and “Star”

**This text is written within The Writing Movement Network that The Writing Movement Network is supported by The Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture Short-term network scheme.

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