If the description of a performance says that it could either be an extraordinary mix-up or an experience or a combination of those, you’re mentally prepared for something strange. My visits to a real festival were at the time I actively participated in the school theatre and that was over ten years ago. As far as I can remember, a festival always consisted of a couple of pieces that forced out laughter (some worked, some slipped on a banana peel and splashed on the asphalt), a couple of more classical stories with a beginning, end, and midpoint, and a few weird compositions, which flirted with video art as well as abstraction. Henrik Kalmet’s solo performance “A Festival Piece or a Desperate Attempt to Get an Invitation to a Festival”, in which he plays with the components of different festival pieces, was something similar.
This performance is in many ways ticking the boxes of obligatory elements: dance – done, video background – done, profound quotes – done, interactive communication with the audience – done, and so on… Entering St Canute’s Guild Hall everything is literally enveloped in a fog. The smoke-smelling fog gives a hint that the whole point of the performance may remain hazy. And it’s a symbol that rings true. At the moment, only a teepee tent can be seen on the stage. The smoke clears, aboriginal music stays, for a second I seem to fall into a trance. But how long can you stare at a tent? Several minutes pass. Nothing. Suddenly a child’s shrieks. Really, a man was carrying a child. A strange place for them to spend an evening, but I’m sure parents want to get out once in a while as well. I wonder if the child is part of the performance. Since nothing is happening on the stage, the child’s babble offers the audience something to laugh about and sets the mood.
Oh, so the main character is hiding in the tent! And then the actor is in front of the audience. Stands. Stands. Burlap robe and long black hair – an obvious caveman. Of course, an aboriginal dance is in order now, and it follows. I have to admit it’s quite interesting to watch. And then the first words. At first in English, to raise the export value of the performance (another typical festival trick). Gradually I realise that he is becoming Muhv from the Naksitralls, the cartoon character who writes to himself and consorts with cats and rats. Well-well-well. But the play changes direction again soon. An honest confession follows in Estonian: „I’m afraid.“ Alone on the stage, who wouldn’t be? Even if you only have to spend 50 minutes there. Think about it, 50 full minutes have to be filled. That’s longer than a regular period at school, which is last for 45 minutes. Already for this audacity Kalmet must be recognised. The caveman meets modern video art and white walls around him fill with several larger-than-life doppelgangers, each of them repeating a movement made by real-Henrik. And then the act of the caveman, which started quietly, grew stormy for a bit and then multiplied, is over.
So. What is served next? Surprisingly, something very ordinary. The actor carries all sorts of mundane objects onto the stage – a TV set, toaster, water boiler, mug, white bread, a jar of Nutella… „With no pants on?“ a female voice whispers behind me. The caveman’s robe is gone. There are long white socks. Long white T-shirt. No pants. The T-shirt is long enough to leave room for guesswork. Has he really got no pants on? Yes, really. I think about the child, who is hiding somewhere in the audience. It’s quite brave to bring a kid to an experimental piece. How much does he understand? Should he understand?
The TV is switched on and we see the morning show „Terevisioon“. We’re in the intimate home environment of a man and he’s got plenty of time. Time to boil water for his tea, toast some bread, spread Nutella on it, take a bite… And then he notices other hungry faces. He brings a couple of extra mugs, a giant jar of Nutella (bursts of laughter from the audience) and a big bag of white bread. He spreads Nutella on a couple of slices, pours tee and hands it to someone in the front row. Then makes some more and climbs higher among people. Must be quite weird to accept Nutella-bread and tea from a half-naked man. I pray to myself that he wouldn’t be bothered to climb up to fifth row. I don’t want bread. I don’t want Nutella. They equal stomach ache and pimples. What would I do with them? I’m sure he has a scenario for refusal. But we never find out. A long time ago the teacher of the theatre class told me that when a gun is on the stage during the performance, there will be a bang before the end. This is where the TV assumes a new, more important role, as Peeter Oja explains to the audience of „Terevisioon“ that Nutella is bad for you. It must be great for the people munching on their bread to hear that. Well-well, the piece has become anti-Nutella propaganda. Henrik Kalmet disappears from the stage.
When Kalmet manifests on the stage the last time, we no longer have to wonder whether he’s wearing any pants or not. He’s stark naked. That’s it. The pot he is carrying emits sweet aroma of chocolate. Melted Nutella. Warm, sticky substance flows on his head and down his body. He carefully smears Nutella all over his body. I think about the poor clogged pores, filling with sugar. Is this even possible? Sweetish scent spreads over the room. Don’t feel like eating Nutella at all. A large question mark sits above my head: should food be played with? Is Nutella food? Certainly not nutritious. But what is the message of this? Kalmet draws white lines on his chocolate brown body with his fingers, creating war paint. Refugees? Again, everywhere? I never crack this code. And I don’t have to, because the performance is over. I’m sure that after dousing yourself in chocolate spread, there’s not much else you want to do. You only want to wash! The audience claps. Three times. It seems that someone understood something and they liked it. 50 minutes on the stage alone, dancing, naked, covered in Nutella. Yes, that is worth clapping for, although I’m not sure I really got the point. But… I was warned that it might be a big misunderstanding. Therefore I’m not upset. Maybe this performance will come back to haunt me in my dreams.
Information and dates here.