This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 6th of September 2018. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
Transcripts are a new initiative of Delving into Dance, seeking to make the rich audio archive more accessiable to deaf audiances and for educators. These transcripts are paid for through the support of audiences and supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria. It would be wonderful to have your contribute to this initative, You can contribure here.
The interview started with a question about where did dance start…
Mette Ingvartsen: Always a good question, where does it start? I think I have different stories in my head. When I think about it, I started actually, by dancing Hip Hop, funnily enough. And, I think I saw this one film when I was very young, which is called Flashdance, which is a story about a young working class girl who wants to be a ballet dancer and she's working in a metal factory. And at the same time, she's trying to do this audition. And she manages to get in. And it's a, I don't know, it's, in a way, I think there's something that because in this audition that she then does, she's dancing her own dance, which has nothing to do with ballet. And they take her anyway. And so I think that when I saw this film, I was like, I was totally impressed by the fact that she could do it also, without having the background and the, let's say, the cultural background as well - to be able to actually become a professional mentor. And so I think at already at that point, I was like, this is what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna make it and break through this possibility of being an artist. There's no artist in my family. So to be an artist in my family is totally fine but it was not necessarily a given way. And then I started by doing this very popular, I mean, in a way, I was dancing in a group of people who were dancing hip-hop, and we were doing shows and from very early on - public presentations of this hip-hop group. And I quickly found out that I really wanted to do it more seriously. So in that sense - I've been doing ballet classes since I was 13, but not since I was five. So in that sense, it started on a little later.
Andrew: Amazing. And then so what was the jump from, you know, obviously, a lot of people have that dream and actually realize that dream can be quite difficult. So how did that happen for you?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think for me, it was when I was 18. I decided to leave Denmark because I felt dance in Denmark was still very traditional in the sense of it's very connected to technique. And I knew as I started a bit late with ballet, that I would never be a ballerina. And Denmark has a strong tradition in the Bourneville Ballet tradition. And with a strong connection to classical ballet, and the dancing, even the modern dancing, is still somehow influenced by that and that history. I had a feeling that I needed to get out of the country and away, and I moved to Amsterdam when I was 18. And I studied there for one year. And then I encountered the work of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker she’s a Belgian choreographer, that I got very inspired and stimulated by, and I found out that she had a school called PARTS (performing arts research and training studios) in Brussels. And so I tried to come here as fast as possible, and I managed, and I spent four years there studying between 2000 and 2004. So it's been a while. And that was kind of a place where you could train, it was a lot of really physical training, but also, ballet training. And let's say also quite thorough dance training, but also a lot of theory, a lot more thinking practices, a lot of more conceptually oriented practices that I connected very much to, but also improvisational theatre where the broad education and also including choreography study, so I was basically making my work when I was 22-23.
Andrew: And your work is very connected to ideas and thinking about social structures, and more broadly - did that come from that schooling as well?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think I was trained like that in that school. But I already bought my first book called Dance and Philosophy, I think, I found in a bookstore when I was 16. So I think it's also something that I was generally interested in. Also, very early on, I encountered this woman when I was 15, who were actually connected to the Laban Dance School. So the Labannotation system, and she had lots of techniques around improvisation also. So I was quite early and encountering also quite complex ways of thinking about movement. And, you know, where you could say, movement philosophy was, was quite early, something that I thought, Oh, this actually; I'm very interested in understanding. And so in a way, the school route was definitely the right place for me, because there I had philosophy classes and sociology classes and dance history classes that were more conceptually oriented. So it was a very good place to develop those interests that I had at the time.
Andrew: talk about your work, Seven Pleasures, as a starting point, because it's one of your works that I have seen. And what this work explores. I was really interested in the placement of the naked body amongst the clothed bodies in the audience, as a starting point. And that exploration, you know, talk a bit more about that.
Mette Ingvartsen: And yeah, so I mean, Seven Pleasures is actually the second piece in a series of four called The Red Pieces. And they're all dealing with sexuality, and nudity -but as a social and political question, and not just as something intimate and private. And in a way, though, questioning in that series has a lot to do with thinking about how the public and the private space has started to disintegrate. And for me, this is connected to how the internet and social media have also created a permeability between our intimate spaces and our public - what we share on a social network, or what we share in a in a public space. And so in a way, for me, it was a way to try to think, okay, in a theatre, there is a stage, and then there's the public. And if we want to learn to speak about how these borders between private and public or performer and audience, if we want to speak about how those borders are blurring, then we have to start in the audience. And we have to do something in the audience, which would be unusual to do in the audience. So everyone takes off a jacket or a sweater when they sit down, but very few people take off more than that. So it was also a way of trying to just continue this movement that is happening anyway when you move into the theatre; when you start to take off clothes, and the performance just kind of kept on going until they have nothing on me. And it was also the question about how naked bodies are not only images that you see from far on stage, but it's actually also bodies that you feel and that you almost get to touch when they have to pass by you in the audience as you are seated, so it had to do with trying to think about those things.
Andrew: I was quite interested because the audience in the one - I saw the work twice, in the audience in one of them, they found it inherently uncomfortable, you have the coughs the shuffling of the seats, that awkward laughter. But we are surrounded by such a vast amounts of nudity into various forms in the public sphere within advertisement, and then within our own personal intimate lives to end people would be more quite comfortable once the bodies move to the stage. But to be in such close proximity with the naked bodies seemed to be what was so confronting which I found really interesting.
Mette Ingvartsen: Yeah, I think in a way. I think that when we’re used to looking at naked bodies that are polished, that are retouched, that are making two images that are made on a distance, that are also standardized, according to certain ideals of how a body should look on a Billboard. But in a theatre let's say, liveness of the body; you're already on stage, I think is can be discomforting or it can be confronting in a different way. And surely, when you come very close, it can be even more confronting. So I also - the first piece of the series is called 69 Positions. And this is actually a piece where I am performing in a public who's moving around me. So it's more like electric performance, where I'm talking and moving and I make it as well for most of the time not, all of the whole thing. And they are really in two centimeters proximity to many of them throughout the entire two-hour duration of it. And I know that in that piece, it really creates a lot of comfort, discomfort, different forms of humor, different forms of distancing, different forms of coming forward also, and sharing something in the moment. So I think in a way, I think we're so used to looking at a certain type of body in public spaces, but actually, not this totally normal naked body, that is, how it is, and not how it is, after it's been remade.
Andrew: Does it disrupt the relationship between the audience and the dancer or the audience and the body?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think what we tried to do in the piece is to really deal with the kind of images that we’re creating of the naked body. So we were trying to be very careful with what kind of images we would propose. And so in a certain way, the second image to come, we're in a - where they are creating one big mass that kind of traverses the space and encloses the furniture and the environment. And like they we actually imagining being bio-technological liquid, that can actually traverse the space, but they can also move up furniture, and envelop it and swallow it. And it's a way to try to get away from relating in a human way, where you are immediately identifying: okay, this is a breast or this is a genital, or this is something else. But you’re just kind of trying to experience yourself as pleasure as a thing. A as liquid or any kind of way to transform how close you can come to people that you're not necessarily in a intimate relationship with. And in a way, the work was a lot about trying to invent these kind of alternative sexual practices, which are also image practices, their physical practices that we do together, but they're actually also image practices, because it's a lot about how image is a theatre performance finally, that people look at. So it’s also still creating an image of the body. And we try to work on this relationship between the qualitative experience of doing the image and actually doing their mission having people look at it as well.
Andrew: And when you're performing, and you've got an audience looking at you as a body, a naked body exposed, does it feel different personally, then, if you are fully clothed? Or is there a difference for you in performing? Or is that something that you are -
Mette Ingvartsen: I have been doing it for many years by now. So for me, it's not - it's different. But it's not… and it is challenging, it's not nothing to do it. But it's not, for me, it's not… it corresponds with the interest and the questions that I have. And so it makes sense to do it. And that's actually as far as I go. Sometimes, I think some of the pieces I have now done more, and that comes maybe a moment on a personal level where I have had many, many, many experiences with performing something. And until I wonder is my level of experience now in correspondence with what the audience actually gets to experience? Because I’ve become almost like too skilled in in knowing how to, to create the situation. And then I also know once in a while, something happens that makes it that I totally have to let go of everything, I think I know about the show, and just kind of go with the flow and see what happens and let anything evolve as is does.
Andrew: So is there an example of not letting everything go?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think, of course, in 69 positions when other people get naked in the room, it always gets a little tricky. And it hasn't happened many times. So I've done the piece many times. But it has only happened two or three times that people have actually undressed. And in this moment, there is a moment that I have to renegotiate quite a lot about how do I then deal with people who are now also naked, and not only me as the performer of the piece. So these things are quite disturbing. But there are also other unexpected issues. But it's difficult to say exactly it has to do with dynamics of groups; it has to do with how people effectively act together. And what this does to the situation. Sometimes I have a feeling that I can very easily communicate with people. And other times, I have a feeling that there is a border, a wall, and I'm up against it. So these things are quite difficult to control, actually. And that's live performing. And that's, of course, what makes it so interesting to do. It's not just a feeling that you capture once, and then it will be there every time we do it. So this is interesting, of course, to keep experimenting with.
Andrew: And of course, your works have toured extensively and have taken place in different I guess, social and political kind of context, in different times of year, years after that they made does that change the reception of your work as well, or the way that you might think about your work?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think with 69 positions, for instance, I have experienced that it’s actually about each group. So each night, it's very different. So when you think it would maybe be related to culture. So when you do it in Northern Europe, it's different from Southern Europe, but actually it feels more as if it's connected to the specific composition of that group that evening. And that's very interesting to me that it actually is about a certain singular situation that's composed with the audience, which is a specific audience each time. So on one hand, I experienced that. And then, of course, on the other hand, I think culturally, there is something in the work with nudity that also comes out of a certain history that I have in my body. Which means that I have a certain relationship to these questions that maybe in Australia are not the same. So of course, there's also a friction when you then present these works in places where the ideas around nudity are maybe in a different place than where they are made from.
Andrew: Yeah, and in terms of work, that may be produced you know, you originally created many years ago and then in a process of remounting it, or it's been re-performed, or you look back on it, does your relationship change to any of your work? Do you think, ‘Oh, I didn't think about that at the time. But that's really clear on views to me now,’ things like that.
Mette Ingvartsen: I mean, actually, I remade to come (extended), which is a piece I did - is the fourth piece of the series called The Red Pieces. And it was originally made for five dancers in 2005, and now I remade it with 15 performers in 2017. So this was quite a revisiting, because it was also a complete re-composing of the entire piece. It's not the same piece anymore, but it was very interesting for me to feel exactly this - how has my relationship to this material actually changed? Because we still do more or less the same things, but we do them differently. It's composed differently. And it I think also means other things today than it did 12-13 years ago. So I think that there is a change and in that specific case - it had to do with actually, I was very busy with identity questions at the time; I was also very busy with the family structure as a kind of dominant structure. And the idea of the orgiastic as a resistance to this dominant family structure. So we were five people doing these orgiastic sculptures. And today my questions are much more social and political. And they're much closer related to this issue around the private and the public. And what happens to our private spaces once we are exposing our most intimate thoughts and desires on social media? And what happens to our physical inter relation to each other? And also what happens to sexual practice after the Internet has exploded? You know, the circulation of pornography. And so there's many changes that have happened in between that makes it that I see the work and I think about the work very differently today than I did 12 years ago. And of course, I also got 12 years older. So I also maybe changed my way of looking at the images and the ways of thinking about them.
Andrew: in terms of that online space, 21 Pornographies explores this, the dynamics between desire and sex and power - can you talk about this work, a little bit on where that emerges from?
Mette Ingvartsen: Actually, it came out of several things. But one of the things was that after doing 69 Positions and Seven Pleasures, I started to have many people questioning me in regards to whether this is pornography; whether I consider it pornographic or not, am I'm working on pornography, or am I interested in pornography? And I was not really busy with those questions. In those two words, I was more busy with just sexuality as a kind of expanded field; that is also a social and political field. And it made me think that there's something within the question of pornography that I have to address, if it's something that comes back to me so much. So I also like that my work in a way speaks to the world, it's like the public speaking back to me. So it's also the kind of way the work speaks back to me. So I don't necessarily know everything about what my work communicates. I know how I make it, but I don't necessarily know what it does to people when they look at it. So of course, when I talk to people afterwards, I sometimes also reshape or rethink the perspective from where it was made. And then I think those works were also quite - I'm in the line of the kind of Sexual liberation Movement of the 1960s - that kind of libratory energy that I wanted to research and understand, because it's a snap decision. I really look at historical works as well. And 21 pornographies, in a way, was a moment where I thought, okay well, I have to also look into the darker sides of sexuality - I have to look at the sides where power is involved in an explicit way because this is also where it becomes clear how sex and politics are interrelated. So for instance in that work I'm also dealing with war pornography as a phenomena that exists, that clearly connects the sexual with the political in a very outspoken or clear way. So war pornography of this tooth - it’s several things, but it's partly how soldiers in war, they film war fatalities that are not necessarily sexual, but they could be. And then they distribute this image material on secret networks in a way that is comparable to how illegal pornography for instance, could also be distributed. And so for me, it's a way of trying to understand how brutality and war crimes are somewhat also connected to the pleasure of torturing or the desire that comes out of actually being in a powerful position, which is a very delicate and difficult area to look at.
Andrew: The imagery that came out of the Iraq war, and horrific kind of torture, which was, as you say, borderline sexualized, that was also just so, so degrading -
Mette Ingvartsen: Yeah, but sexualized torture has existed also in the Balkan Wars. It has existed in the Viking brutalities. So it's like an old historical form of violation, which has to do with an abuse of power; which clearly relates to how pleasure and desire is connected to this abuse of power. And I think today, I mean, that's what we have seen with the whole MeToo movement, we see that there is a real societal question and issue that is concerning exactly this point. And maybe it's not to the point of what we would call war crimes, but there are sexual crimes also that have been committed. And I think the fact that they are now coming out or becoming visible, I think, hopefully, can change all the structures of power. And I think my work in a way has to do with thinking about this, what kinds of structures of power are in place? How are they related to sexuality? How are they related to gender roles? How are they related to equality? And also how are they somehow related to also the abuse of power. Which is a difficult question, but in the performance and also making a fiction because it's not a documentary piece. So it's a piece that also looks at Marquis, the statue, it actually looks at the history of pornography as it existed in, in literature through Marquis de Sade, you know, so it looks at how pornography existed in Denmark in the 1970s as part of the kind of liberal Tory movement, sexual liberation movement, but also as part of the commercialization of sex. So it was the moment when these pornographic films were made. But they were also circulated all over Denmark, in movie houses, in many different places, with actors that were not necessarily actually porn actors, but also just actors playing in other films at the time as well. So this, this some - let's say, the piece has to do with looking at a historical lineage, which is, of course, one that is connected to different forms of brutality, or different forms of inter linking desire and power. And not always in negative terms; that piece is quite dark, and looking more on the dark side of things. But it's not only that, it's also has to do with the imaginary and you could also think it’s connected to some videos and practices, for instance, where the, you could say, where putting yourself in a submissive position could also be a liberatory thing. So it's not necessarily to say that playing with power can also produce pleasure, and it's not necessarily the same form of violation as when someone is forced to do something they don't want to do. So I think the work in a way also deals with those layers of complexity. It's not an easy topic to simply delineate.
Andrew: And obviously, sexuality and sexual practices are so historically politicized, they change in context. So obviously, how sexual liberation periods of time and then censorship or people reverting back to quiet traditional ways of viewing relationships or family structures. So it's this constant shift and change. And it's always very hard to know which way it's heading, where do you think this heading at the moment, in terms of the history of sexuality?
Mette Ingvartsen: It's difficult, because you could say that the sexual liberation movement of the 60s was such a big movement. And in a way, you could also say that it failed, because we didn't invent other structures. And we didn't manage to transform as the people who were protesting at the time we're trying to do. So in that sense, I have my hopes up now for the MeToo movement and the kind of change, but I feel already that it has blown over, you know? It was very strong six months ago. And now already, we hear about it less, and it's less discussed, it's already like the wave of it is already you know, over. But I still think that there is a different awareness, which has been born which wasn't there before. And I think with this awareness, there is a possibility in general, to really try to transform structures, and not in a way because the personal stories are very important, but what is even more important in order for personal stories to change, is that we try to think structurally, how can we actually do things in a different way? So I'm interested in thinking about this, I know that there are many other people who are too and so I think in a way, we're in a time where the possibility of this, this thinking through how structures could potentially change is really something that we have to do. And it's quite essential that we do now because there is the energy for it. And then I think there's still many different ways to do it, you can do it collectively, you can do it on your own, you know, trying to also mobilize things in a larger context, which I think is necessary.
Andrew: Last year, in Australia, they had same sex marriage pass. So, gay and lesbian couples can get married and so now there's this pressure on people in relationships to get married. And so all the other ways that potentially relationships have been done quite differently in queer communities now, has a structure that it can fit into, which is far more hetero-normative, and far more, you know, traditional in that sense as well. So it's kind of like, yes, it's a win in some respects. But then there's also this pushback and expectation that now you can live traditional lives, and can we live the same as everybody else's? Just that your relationship partner should be different than everybody else’s?
Mette Ingvartsen - Yeah, and one thing is to have rights, so I think everyone should have the same right. So, and that's it, it's a good move. But of course, there is also really the question of the normative and how to get out of it, and how also to value other forms of relationships and other ways of living together, and other ways of trying. And it's not easy, because it's the school system. It's the, I mean, there's a whole system that makes it that certain structures are easier to follow than others. So, I think, for me, anyway, equality is one of the, between men and women, but also equality between races, equality between I mean, it's - there's something about equality that I think is a place to insist and to not accept, uneven abusive power, abusive structures. So, I think that's a good place to start.
Andrew: Historically, in dance there’s always been a power in balance, in some respects, between the dances and the audience; where the audience looks towards, places their gaze towards the dancers, who becomes the object of desire or dance for the audience's pleasure? How does your work challenge some of those historical notions of audience and dance?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think exactly what you just said, the fact that this relation has been there, but in a way, very often in an unspoken way; like the fact that the sexual undertone or the desiring undertone that a lot of dancers operating through - and for me, it was very important to make it explicit to actually say, okay, part of what is happening here is actually a question of desire, it is a question of being stimulated physically. And then there's many different levels or layers of this happening, of course, and in my work, it was about saying, well, we have to recognize that this underlying structures are there. And if we recognize it, and even expose it explicitly, then maybe we can actually look for something else, or we can question ourselves and how we look in this particularly sexualised way. So if you see sexual bodies as quite difficult, say, oh, these are not sexual bodies. Whereas when you see nicely dancing bodies, which still gives you an erotic undertone, it's quite easy to say. But this is not about that or this, it’s about movement or abstract geometry, or shapes, or space or music, or I don't know… So I think for me, it was important to innovate and pinpoint this thing. And perhaps also I think there's many other ways that dance also operates on a kinesthetic, physical, not that the body is not necessarily only sexual, of course, the way the body communicates and dances is definitely not necessarily about desire only. So you can also have dances that are not appealing to your desire, but more to your disgust or to your political awareness or to other sides - but maybe these things are not so disconnected the other thing.
But yes, my work in a way, at least this series of works - I’ve done quite a lot of other projects as well, that have nothing to do with sexuality and nudity.
But these projects they have, in a way been about trying to make these questions explicit, and to kind of approach them head on and see what actually happens in the experience that the audience can have, where they may be, also to have to negotiate this position of being more years of being in a place where desire is put into question but also put into active force.
Andrew: And historically, dance was one of the artistic practices that was often censored. Do you ever think that censorship ever has a place in our -
Mette Ingvartsen: I still know I'm 100% against censorship, because for me, art is them, in a way. You can have taste discussions about art, you can also have ethical discussions about entrepreneur political discussions about art, and whether these artists okay or not, but to censor it, for me, is not an option, because it goes against the freedom of expression, and also against the fact that many of the things that people address in art are actually entirely happening in the world. They exist, they are there; they are just not exposed in an explicit way. And when they become exposed in ways that governments don't want to have exposed for instance; then censorship comes into play. But I think for this was for a democratic society. I think censorship is very, very, very complicated. And we also know that the censorship is still very active in certain places in the world today, of course. I think it proposes a lot of issues in relation to democracy, which I can’t, I don't find has a place in, in democratic societies. But then the No, I think, actually, it's much more interesting to see. Where does something come from? And then I like there are for instance -
Andrew: Is that place where we can have these difficult conversations with a level of safety and with the ability to talk about some hard things, or I guess, be exposed to different ideas or different belief systems than our own? Can we talk a little bit about your PhD and what it was about, because you did a PhD? When did you finish that? That was -
Mette Ingvartsen: October 2016.
Andrew: So you're on the other side, what was your PhD about?
Mette Ingvartsen: Well, it's one of these artistic PhD’s. So it was about my work. But I made two books. And it was connected to two series of works. And the first series was called The Artificial Nature Series, and the second one was called The Red Pieces that I'm still busy with. So it was, in a way corresponding to a shift also in my work. And so what I try to articulate in the first book, or in the first strand of work has to do with thinking about how to make choreography for non-humans, and how to get beyond that kind of anthropocentric perspective on choreography, where the dancing body is always the center of attention. And also in theatre, in general, where the human body is the center and the materials and the objects and the things, the affect the smoke, and the light affects are there to enhance the presence of the performer. And what I tried to do was basically try to find a different place where the agency of non-humans or things, materials, objects would also exist on stage. And I searched for that in many different ways. We made different pieces, one was completely devoid of human presence, only working with making landscapes out of material, like smoke, foam, bottles, and light and sound. And in another part where I was working with these silver particles to create also an artificial landscape.
Yeah, so that's insured. And then after doing that, for quite some years, I got to the point of needing to deeply come back to the human body. And also, in a way, come back to some strands of my own work, which had to do with thinking really about the most intimate levels of the human body. So sexuality and its politics. And so the second the second, part because there's two books - the second part is like a counter image to the first one where I made this, let's say, electric perform that also looks at the history of sexuality, that looks at the context within which performances were nudity was used, with what kind of context they were made in the 1960s in the US mainly. But also looking back at my own work and dealing with nudity and sexuality, as well as thinking about sexual practices in general today and where we are at.
Andrew: Are these books going to be public?
Mette Ingvartsen: They are, they were. They are out of print.
Andrew: What's it like, looking back on that journey, did it shift your practice?
Mette Ingvartsen: I think it did do a lot, actually. I think it gave me time to think and to go deep in a completely different way. I thought I would produce less; I have produced more things than ever. So it did not really have the expected effect, to withdraw. And to think, but it was a, it was a very active time of thinking, and studying and making. And I think it has changed how I think about research also, and how I think about giving place to the part of work, which is not actually, when you're exactly making it, but also the whole preparation period, and the whole thinking process and the whole discussion process with other people and how this also is, of course, a social practice where you engage with other people to try to articulate condition urns. And, this I think I found a different way of handling that in my work. And also I started making these some performances where speech, which I didn't do before. So language kind of came into it also. So it has done quite some changes to my actual artistic work as well.
Andrew: Yeah, that's amazing. What's happening in the future? What's on for the rest of the year?
Mette Ingvartsen: Well, I'm currently starting to work on something new. I’ve also spent five years now working on these questions around sexuality. And I feel like I've been in all the different corners of the question. So right now, I'm starting to look in a different direction. And right now I'm interested or busy with thinking about technology and the body’s relationship to technology and how the body’s relationship to technology is transforming the soul. So how we are together in the social space and much more I don't really know yet, because I'm just starting. So it's quite a new project and I started researching on it already in August, but it's only for the - Yeah, I have lots of time to think and develop it further. But it feels like a new direction I’m looking forward to diving into.