Mette Ingvartsen: on her process, practice, and the unfolding of her work

Jeffrey S. Stratton

As we look towards our public program for 2022, it’s hard to ignore the inclusion of two works by one of Danmark’s most recognized choreographic artists—Mette Ingvartsen.

Invartsens’ to come (extended) and Moving in concert are two notable singular works in their own right. However, knowing that she will be presenting them back to back over two nights, we wanted to sit down with her over Zoom and have her tell us in her own words what is the correlation (if any) between the two works.

This is what she had to say.

Looking back to your first piece Manual Focus, could you draw a red thread between all of your works—either conceptually or thematically?

Mette: I remember when I started, I had the idea that each work had to be singular. I didn’t want to develop one aesthetic paradigm, which would be based on one way of thinking about the body.

So if there’s one thing that unites all my pieces, it’s that there is no single physical practice that runs through them. Rather, they’re singular, and they all try to address specific questions. If you look back at my work, I’ve worked with topics of nudity and sexuality, nature, and questions around the politics of nature, or more recently, who are we as people and society concerning Natural Disaster.

It’s not the “themes” that create a red thread throughout all my works; rather, it’s the idea of really honing in on each project as a kind of experimental practice—where the experimentation leads the aesthetics and movement. I think that’s something that actually connects all the works.

So, looking at your works individually, how would you describe your process when developing a work? Do you begin with theory? Or are you more practice-based?

Mette: I don’t specifically start from either the body or from theory when developing a work. I try to approach theory and practice as equals. For example, for one work, there could be something physical that I want to explore, which then opens up theoretical questions around a specific topic. For another work, it could be something very specific in society that I have an issue with, which leads me to begin the development process from a more theoretical perspective.

My development of work is a fluid process that shifts back and forth between theory and practice. I try not to give precedence to one or the other but to actually work on a kind of linking between moving and thinking—sometimes also speaking and doing. I always try to be conscientious of the hierarchies between conceptual and physical approaches to undo them.

And how does this fluid process translate in your “series” works? Do the same rules apply?

Mette: Yes. My series work began with evaporated landscapes; however, I didn’t know that I was making The Artificial Nature Series until I had made five pieces. Along the journey, I had this realization that those works all dealt with the same thing, so then my interest turned to what they make up as a whole.

When I started working on The Red Pieces, I had been through that experience, so I asked myself: What if I actually would dedicate several years of my life to working on a specific topic and unfold different nuances and aspects of it?

For the first work in The Red Pieces series, 69 positions, I took it as an opening to look back over the history of my work and speculate about the future—more specifically, the future of sexuality.

During that time, I was also returning to the workspace after having two children, so I was dealing with sexuality and motherhood, and how society frames them in a very specific way. So the development of the work was informed by personal experience, past practice, and current observations of societal structures.

Your oeuvre of work is quite vast, and we could easily dig into the process and theory of all of them, but we want to shift towards the works you will be presenting in Dansehallerne. Let start with to come (extended). Tell us about that.

Mette: So, to come was a piece I created in 2005. At the time, it was for five performers and played out in three parts.

First, a kind of orgy sculpture in blue costumes that goes on for about 10 minutes: then there’s an orgasm choir, and lastly, there’s a dance based on Lindy hop. When I made it, you coils say that the focus of the piece was more about me, and questions I had: How do you erase your gender, or how can you become neutral? And through becoming gender-neutral, can you take up any sexual position.

However, when I revisited the piece in 2017, I had already been through a whole series of working with nudity in a quite explicit way. We had already made 7 Pleasures, which was working explicitly with sexual representation and nudity.

So, when revisiting to come, it kind of transformed in many ways. It wasn’t possible to keep the same choreography because we scaled the performance up from 5 performers to 15. In the original version, during the final section where the performers are engaged in this Lindy Hop, they all performed in costume. In the (extended) version, this was performed naked. There was something in that affirmative energy in this piece that I needed to reconnect with, and as a result, it became amplified.

And for the second piece that you will be showing, Moving in Concert, how does that relate? Is there a connection between the two pieces?

Mette: In many ways, Moving in Concert is connected through being almost an antithesis of to come (extended). Or actually, it was a kind of rupture with The Red Pieces series. I wanted to get out of the questions around sexuality because I had been busy with them for a really long time.

The previous work, 21 pornographies, was a really heavy work—both to develop and perform. So, there was a point where I realized that I needed to create from a different space. I was still interested in investigating the naked body, but in a non-sexual way. So, I turned towards thinking about the abstraction relationships between the body, nature, and technology.

Moving in Concert kind of began from that interest in exploring the body as a neutral canvas. In contrast to previous works where the contact between the performers was, in some way, representative of sexuality and explicit contact, Moving in Concert focuses on the abstract contact between body and technology. All the interactions happen through the lights. So the dancers never literally touched each other. Contact between performers was always made through technology, or in this case, the medium of manufactured light.

For me, in a way, even though Moving in Concert was made before Corona, it is also representative of current social structures due to Corona, where human connection is dependant on technology and devoid of any actual, real physical touch. I also feel that placing these two pieces together—to come (extended) and Moving in Concert—presents an interesting duality of human contact.

Since the development of to come (extended) and Moving in Concert, there have been a number of pieces that Mette Ingvartsen has added to her oeuvre—all of which continue with her talent for exploring new mediums and outlets for creation. However, it is always a pleasure to see an artist return to the work of their past.

From working with choreography, installation, and performance to teaching, lecturing and writing, Mette Ingvartsen has established a prolific career as an artist and all-around talent within the global choreographic and dance scene.