“Bionic showgirl” Viktoria Modesta, who is set to take the stage at the risque Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris next week, says she has had to reinvent herself after being treated as an outcast over her artifical leg. Born in Latvia under Soviet rule with a malformed left hip and leg due to an accident at birth, Viktoria Modesta (her stage name) was 20 when she chose amputation “for medical and psychological reasons”. With her intense look and black outfit, dark hair pulled into a bun and long nails painted in metallic colours, the 31-year-old recounted her origins, recalling her debut in a private salon with red walls and dimmed light in an ambiance known as “nude chic”.
“They were destroying me as a human being and I had to create my new identity,” said Modesta, a British national having emigrated to the UK. “When I was born my mum didn’t see me for five days,” she told AFP, noting that her mother was pressured at the age of 17 to send her baby to an orphanage. “My mum… saved me from being sent away somewhere,” she said.
“Growing up as a kid, it was a lot of adults making decisions on my behalf. And not all of them were correct and I ended up in a situation where my creative spirit didn’t align with my physical ability and I really wanted to fix that.” She recalled feeling the harsh judgments of people around her, such as “old ladies looking at you and saying, ‘Oh my God, how are you gonna survive when you grow up, who is gonna marry you?’.” The performer said she grew up in an “extreme environment”, with those who were not “biologically accurate” treated as “second-class citizens”. “I felt so outcast that I had to build my own new identity.”
‘Your body, you truly own’
The amputation was a watershed moment, giving her a chance to regain control of her body and make a break with a painful past. She has said previously that she chose to have her leg amputated below the knee to “improve mobility and safeguard future health”. It took her five years to persuade surgeons to do the operation, which she described as literally severing the thing that was holding her back.
Drawing inspiration from avant-garde British fashion designer Alexander McQueen and US artist Matthew Barney, Modesta said: “Your body is the only thing you truly own… It was a part of survival, bringing me a more fulfilling and happy life.” She grew up mainly in Britain and now lives in the United States, describing herself as a “citizen of the world”. In Paris, she will perform at the world famous Crazy Horse nightclub from June 3-16, using a different prosthesis for each scene, surrounded by dancers with only lighting effects to cover their nudity.
In one number, an “artistic prosthesis” breaks ice and it has already been viewed 12 million times on YouTube. In 2012 Modesta performed at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics in London wearing a diamond prosthesis before a crowd of some 90,000. She said she thought then: “The fact that I had an amputation doesn’t make me different. There are millions of people with the same physical situation, it’s my perspective and my view on the world that really made things different.”
‘Balancing strength, vulnerability’
She said the Crazy Horse experience “perfectly captures the essence of femininity” and would allow her to find “a good balance between strength and vulnerability”. No longer feeling the need to suppress her sexuality in the name of her art, she said, “Here I decided to do the opposite. It’s really important to bring our sexual identity into the creative process.”
She added that her message “would be that the modern woman… is someone who chooses exactly who she wants to be… There is no limitation of ‘I have to be soft or I have to be hard’, the thing is creating your own cocktail of qualities”. “I’m going to explore several facets of myself in this performance” at the Crazy Horse.-AFP