Mai Soot’s performances are complex scenes of ritual and dance, heavily laden with intricate symbolism and hidden meaning. I have to admit, I completely mis-interpreted the intention of one of her performances, and I can only wonder how viewers discussed the work afterward, and whether others shared my (mis)-interpretations. But Mai told me it always interests her to see what other people think of her work and how they understand it.
The performance in question was Eclipse (2010), which she presented in Polymer Culture Factory, and later in 2011 as Ecstasy. In the performance, she urinates in front of the audience, and then analyses her urine using a special machine, singing out the results to the audience. Later she swings on a trapeze and dances in front of her audience. A phone rings, and when she answers it, she is told that she is “a slothful slug…a chickenhearted woman…indecisive maggot…” among other things. She tells the voice to “shut up,” and proceeds to dance around the room. The performance ends with her sticking her finger down her throat and vomiting onto the floor.
The artist told me that the piece is about ritual and cleansing. She excretes urine and bile from her body – cleaning herself out and getting rid of that which is unwanted. She even analyzes her urine to see what, exactly, her body has produced. Her subconscious tells her she isn’t good enough – the same voice that echoes inside all of us. And the dance that Mai performs is the ultimate form of expression – a complete letting go of oneself and purely expressing all that is inside.
The element of ritual is present in her other works, namely, Holy Maria (2010), where she reenacts the scene of Mary being impregnated by a dove flying into her ear. The artist told me that she became interested in religion early on, after a friend introduced her to Christianity. She was baptized and adopted it as her religion. She studied in Lithuania for one year, and spent a lot of time in the churches there, observing the rituals that take place in the church. In Mai’s performance, she plays on that aspect of ritual that is embedded in organized religion, but attempts to open it up. As she says, things like fertilization are never talked about in religion. Mary’s conception is treated as a miracle and a mystery, but the practicalities are never spoken of. In her performance, Mai gives expression to that and brings it out into the open. She also sings a letter that she has written to Mary, admitting that she has never really recognized her as a saint, since “all she did was give birth.” Then, she offers a dance to her. Mai talked about the challenge of singing and dancing in front of her audience. A shy person by nature, she tried to be more expressive in her performances, in order to have more direct contact with her audience, and song and dance enable her to do this.
I was not surprised to learn that Jaan Toomik was Mai’s instructor, as he, too, incorporates dance into his performance. The element of ritual is also present in his work, however his student adapts these elements to her own unique style, and makes them hers.
In addition to creating work as a solo artist, she also performs with her sister, Tiina Soot, and also works with the 10X10m artistic group, which is involved in performance, theater and dance.