Viktoria Modesta: Not Your Grandfather's Shakespeare Interpreter

10/20/2016 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's been 400 years since William Shakespeare passed away.

So how do you bring him back to life?

If you're the British Council, charged with finding a 21st century audience for a 16th century playwright, you call Viktoria Modesta.

Modesta might not be the first person you think of when reinterpreting the Bard, but that's the genius of the choice.

She calls herself the "world's first bionic popstar." The world sees her as a singer, songwriter, performance artist, and model.

A decade ago, Modesta had one leg amputated below the knee, after a doctor's negligence at birth forced her to spend much of her childhood going in and out of hospitals.

Modesta's brilliance as a storyteller in all media made her a natural choice to bring Shakespeare to life.

"When the British Council approached me," Modesta told Huff Post, "I wasn't very familiar with Shakespeare myself, and I was thinking, this is definitely going to be a challenge.

"It took me quite a long time to understand how I could reinterpret such a vibrant, memorable, storytelling text that has literally lived on and on and on."

Modesta connected most powerfully with Midsummer Night's Dream, she says. She devised the piece with director Sing J. Lee.

"Working with an artist like Viktoria was refreshing and exciting," Lee says. "The themes we were playing with are quite bold for an artist to address, scrutinizing and opening conversations about infatuation with a presentation of oneself, losing yourself in an alter ego -- to many artists, this can be too close to home, but with Viktoria she broke that wall down."

Modesta agrees.

"It offers such a wonderful parallel to the hyper-reality world that I'm trying to create with my current work," she says. "It has the magic and the essence of different creatures and otherworldliness and non-human life, but you still have these wonderful human interactions."

The challenge for Modesta was making Shakespeare personal. She realized that until now, "everyone keeps reusing the text in a modern setting, but no one is trying to really redevelop the story and retell it from a more modern perspective."

Modesta realized that the story elements of forbidden love and hypnodentity related to the internet age, where people present themselves online however they see fit and you're never really sure who is on the other end of the conversation.

In Modesta's retelling, Oberon is concerned that Titania is becoming self-obsessed and running away with an illusion she's created for herself.

The question became how you could incorporate virtual reality storytelling into that basic theme.

"In the video," Modesta says, she goes "into the virtual reality, hyper-reality world, and am faced with this other potential identity of myself. We're doing a courting dance where we essentially get so close and the obsession grows so strong that there is not just repulsion but also a kind of war. You know how crazy that can be."

The video she created explores modern issues like tech fashion--her outfit is 3D printed--and also concepts of gender and identity.

Also in the video, Shakespeare character Bottom becomes a "hyper-reality, idolized, weird, digital representation of yourself, the unhealthy relationship that can sometimes form with hidden parts of our personality."

Modesta found herself thinking a lot about what Shakespeare meant to his times.
"He was such a trendsetter," she says. "He created a lot of the language we use today and he was very much ahead of his time. If he were still alive, he would absolutely be a futurist. He's trying to capture human emotions, head into the future, and create new things."

So what exactly has Modesta created?

"Some of the reaction," she says, "has been, is it a movie? A music video? An art film? The answer is that it's all of those things.

"I don't think there's any reason why it can't be all of those things at the same time."

And what about those who associate Shakespeare with Lawrence Olivier? What will they think?
"I've actually yet to hear feedback from hardcore Shakespeare fans," she says. "It's probably not what they're used to!"

Adds director Lee, "Perhaps the purists may find this too removed from the Shakespeare adaptations we're used to, or what is expected. I think the intention from the beginning was to surprise and do away with what has come before."

You can see for yourself; the link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7h1OdbKWDI.
It certainly doesn't look like your grandfather's interpretation of Shakespeare, but on the other hand, your grandfather didn't live in the age of Viktoria Modesta.

Viktoria Modesta in her new Midsummer Night's Dream video:

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