A journey through the explicit and digital experience of human connection

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Jeffrey S. Stratton

For many years now, Danish artist Mette Ingvartsen has continued to establish a name for herself on the global stage—with her works both showing the prowess of her aesthetic and choreographic skill and the depth of her conceptual thinking.

While most of her career has been spent living outside Denmark, she has still held a significant influence and presence within the Danish choreographic scene. Since her break-out piece Manual Focus in 2003, which she still tours to this day, Ingvartsen has been persistent in challenging, influencing, and shaping the categories often placed on people in her field.

She is a choreographer, a dancer, a writer, a feminist, a curator, a teacher, a lover, and a mother, all of which help define the overall output of her life’s work. All of which can be seen and felt in her work.

Mette Ingvartsen’s public presence spans nearly 20 years—spanning numerous performances, research projects, curations, articles, interviews, and videos. Therefore, it is a daunting challenge to introduce the two works she will show here in Dansehallerne without somehow introducing the woman herself.

So, where to begin?

A little background and context

While Danish, Mette Ingvartsen has made Brussels her home since studying and graduating from the internationally recognized dance school P.A.R.T.S (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in 2004. She established her company there and began working on Manual Focus in 2003 while still in school. This piece paved the way for Ingvartsen’s unique way of questioning bodily representation throughout many of her following works.

Her work since then, spanning two major series, a handful of singular pieces, and six research projects, has become known for its visceral nature and her combination of theory and choreography alongside more aesthetic inclusions of domains such as installation, technology, and text.

In addition to her ambitious production of work, she also maintains a busy touring schedule throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, and Asia.

Her process & influences

In speaking with Mette, which you can read here, she discussed approaching the development process differently for each piece. Sometimes working from theory, sometimes concept, and other times from choreographic movement or personal experience.

I would probably say that my work is very connected to social and political questions that I have in general. I always start with very particular questions or observations. I then pair them with physical ideas to explore what those questions or observations are about.

I think for me, there is also a question of form. I often I very often dabble in non-traditional formats of presentation with my works.

For example, in the piece 69 positions, the audience experiences the piece as more like a guided tour in a museum where people can walk around. 7 pleasures is more of a frontal presentation but breaks the traditional audience/performance boundary by having the dancers start and finish the performance as intermingled members of the audience. It is important to me to always find the singularity of each work—not only in the theme, but also in how it’s worked out aesthetically and what it proposes to an audience.

Mette Ingvartsen

On to come (extended)

The first piece that Mette will show in our house in March 2022 will be her work to come (extended), which is a re-worked and revisited version of the piece to come that she developed in 2005. You can still find the original documentation of the piece, which was much simpler in its execution than the (extended) version. According to Mette, the (extended) version includes a much larger cast of dancers, requiring the overall choreography to be reworked entirely. In addition, she made a conscious decision to place the (extended) version within her Red Pieces series along with 21 pornographies, 7 pleasures, and 69 positions. Due to that series’ explicit focus on nudity, sexuality, and what she describes as “how the body historically has been a site for political struggles,” she changed the entire final section to remove the dancer’s costumery and allow the last act to be performed in the nude.

However, while the piece took on a more explicit nature, it still maintains its conceptual exploration of sexual representation—more specifically, the relationship with sexual representation in public and private spaces.

According to Mette, she wanted to revisit the work of the 2005 version and reflect it through a lens of current social and political movements and discussion. In 2015, the global focus on the #metoo movement and gender equality was causing a seachange on the world stage regarding how sexuality was being seen, understood, represented, exploited, and discussed in a way that was just not as exposed as it was a decade earlier.

Scaling up the piece from 5 dancers to 15, reworking the choreography, and making some aesthetic choices has allowed the piece to be more accurate in reflecting the oxymoronic way we deal with sexuality as a society.

On Moving in Concert

In many ways, Moving in Concert is a polar opposite, at least conceptually, of to come (extended). The piece emerged after Mette Ingvartsen’s Red Pieces series—which ended in 2017 with 21 pornographies.

She premiered Moving in Concert two years later, describing it as an “abstract group choreography.” In contrast to her prior work—which used explicit bodily touch and contact to create an abstraction of form—this piece removed the physical contact between the performers altogether. According to Mette this piece, “inquires into how humans, technical objects and organic matter can interact to create a new conception of abstract form.”

Light, manufactured through digital and human means, is the only connection between the performer, which speaks to our growing reliance on digital, incorporeal means of connecting as bodies.

In describing Moving in Concert, Mette says, “the performance explores a poetics of plasticity, abstraction, and imagination.” The piece begs the audience to consider the lingering effects of technology in our bodies long after all technological devices have been shut off.

Individually, both to come (extended) and Moving in Concert are superb examples of Mette Ingvartsen’s prowess as a thinker, choreographer, and creator. Both explore pressing questions—both for society and the individual. However, they are both crafted to elicit a sense of reflection and wonder from an audience.

However, in our opinion, when you get to see these two pieces back-to-back—two pieces that are both conceptually and ideologically different—you get a true sense of the depth in Mette Ingvartsen’s work.