Mette Ingvartsen is a Danish dancer and choreographer. She studied in Amsterdam and Brussels where in 2004 she graduated from P.A.R.T.S. By combining dance and movement with the visual arts, technology and language, she produces hybrid and innovative research.
While still a student she made “Manual Focus” in 2003, a performance followed by, among others 50/50 in 2004, Acome (2005), It’s in The Air (2008) and GIANT CITY (2009). These are aimed at questioning the world of sensory feelings and perceptions, by means of body representation.
21 pornografie (2017) is part of The Red Pieces series, which also consists of 69 positions (2014) and 7 Pleasures (2015), all three focusing on the analysis of sexuality, nudity and the body as a place of political and social struggles.
Observing with warm and attentive eyes at the bottom of one’s inner well, guided by curiosity or perversion, we might be amazed in discovering unspeakable fantasies. Sometimes it happens to mistakenly enclose the screams of anger or enjoyment among the window frames of our homes, in the reflections of the mirrors or inside the objects that belong to them. It could also happen that we find the corpses of our repressed desires, in the drawers of the bedroom, which belonged to those who lived there before us. And if unfortunately we find perversions that belonged to someone who preceded us in time, wouldn’t it be like discovering something about ourselves and the society to which we belong? In 1785 the Marquis De Sade wrote the 120 Days of Sodom from the depths of his imprisonment, a perverse and detailed story in which he declared that the nature of human passions authorizes crime. But far from seeing this book as the cause of contemporary male-dominated, pornographic and abusive social distortions, it is necessary to recognize its timely relevance.
Mette Ingvartsen’s performance follows De Sade’s novel by leading the audience into an imaginary labyrinth that is both intimate and collective, drawn in the darkness of a dimly lit stage.The only elements on stage are three thin fluorescent tubes. The firm and enveloping voice of Ingvartsen takes over, before the body, accompanying the imagination of the spectators inside a luxurious country villa, which seems to be from the Victorian era. Every detail she describes refers to a sumptuous place adorned with heavy elements such as the solid wood entrance door, marble floors, walls of mirrors and candelabra. A labyrinth of the mind that takes on architectural features, a seductive cradle of an encounter between old associates. Ingvartsen dressed in a man’s suit stands at the center of the stage, entering the imaginary space and observing a group of men and women, some on the perimeters of the room in military uniform, others in elegant clothes and with empty eyes. The latter are seated in the center of the room.
Symbolisms of lust emerge as from a repressed dream, like the ghosts of a theatrical “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivity) or the dejected characters in Otto Dix’s paintings. A woman dressed in black wearing gorgeous jewels enters and starts talking to the people present. With narrative dexterity Ingvartsen jumps from the descriptive story in the third person, within the female character, proceeding on the rise of bodily and sound involvement. The evocative power of her narration is strong. It almost seems that she is painting in the air the images described, from the glitter of the hair of the men present, to the clothes, to the furnishings. A piano in the background accompanies the first of the erotic gestures of the performance, in which Ingvartsen simulates the woman in black mocked and desired by the austere audience, in the act of showing her ass. Sadism and fetishism are the characteristics of the first part of the work, which gradually surface as long as the stories of the sexual perversions of the woman emerge together with the excitement and gestures of masturbation and dispossession of the guests. The aestheticization of the violence perpetrated in the performance reflects all the ambiguities of our time, which have their roots in the past.Ingvartsen’s cultural, historical and literary references are well anchored, ranging from De Sade’s writings to Susan Sontag’s pornographic texts.
Although she is half naked and intent on simulating coprophage acts, she leads astray from any expressive vulgarity, calibrating her body with every movement, even in the moment of greatest involvement of the public, when she crouches in the lap of a spectator after having imaginatively ingested the feces. The audience is asked to take out the chocolate placed under each of their seats, and to eat it. Starting from the second act Ingvartsen is completely naked except for her socks. As if by magic, the more her body strips the more the sensuality of the gesture becomes mechanical. Writhing in complex choreographic movements, she manages to fit the words of the story between the labored breathing and her steady voice.
Ingvartsen delves into scenarios of death, war, power and destruction. Men in military uniforms populate the images of perversion until the tale becomes a detailed description of a truce film, in which an ethnic cleansing is taking place halfway between a TV broadcast and an expensive 1970s porn film.
The power aesthetic of men in uniform blends with Ingvartsen’s expressions of pain mixed with enjoyment, reminiscent of the grimaces of the demons of the Kabuki theater. Here Ingvartsen is a director intent on directing pornographic scenes, taking their masculine connotations to the extreme. It describes a whirlwind of actors who are about to copulate with each other, distracted by the dance of a dancer adorned with bright colors. Ingvartsen is sitting on the ground and accompanies her narration with the banging of her legs against each other, producing a punctuated sound, perfectly timed, reminiscent of that of the hand-to-hand during penetration. The following scene takes place outdoors, but not without obstacles to overcome: a mountain range on the horizon, a nine-meter high wall and in the distance four soldiers burying bodies. From here Ingvartsen falls with his gaze downwards, beyond the second neon, enters the final part of the performance, which leads to necrophilic acts.
Some places return. The corridor found earlier, this time filled with smoke, leads Ingvartsen to the large basement, where the corpses of men and women are arranged on morgue tables. One among all that of an elderly woman triggers the protagonist’s desire for lust and violence on the enigmatic body. The last part of the performance is a blaze and unmasking of the blind cruelty that too often guides the actions of war, torture and sadistic enjoyment. A military general announces the experience of the most wonderful perversion that can be experienced. Ingvartsen’s body whirls on itself for the last long minutes, in the whirling dance it supports a cold light led, sexual and objectifying apotheosis of the body. Like a roar escaping from a pandora’s box, Ingvartsen cripples the voice in scream, ending the performance with a guttural sound typical of heavy Metal concerts.
The screams, the hooded head and the whirlwind of his dance are elements reminiscent of the infamous images depicting the torture perpetrated in 2004 by the US military in Iraq on prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. In a world pervaded by the aesthetics of death, eroticism and sexuality are violently distorted. Ingvartesen forces us to reflect on the taboos that affect each of us on the unconscious and social side. Removed the veil of Maya, she opens the doors to important reflections linked to the spectacularization of bodies, political power and social control.
Text by Greta Pasini
© Marc Domage
© Marc Domage
© Marc Domage
© Jens Sethzman
© Jens Sethzman
August 6, 2020,
A production of Great Investment
Co-production: Volksbühne (Berlin), PACT Zollverein (Essen), Kaaitheater (Brussels), NEXT festival / Kunstencentrum BUDA (Kortrijk), Les Spectacles vivants – Centre Pompidou (Paris), Dansehallerne (Copenhagen), BIT Teatergarasjen (Bergen), Julidans (Amsterdam), CCN2 – Centre chorégraphique national de Grenoble
With the support of Nanterre-Amandiers, Centre Dramatique National, Musée de la Danse/ Centre Chorégraphique National de Rennes et de Bretagne & Kustenwerkplaats Pianofabriek
Funded by: The Flemish Authorities, The Flemish Community Commission (VGC) & The Danish Arts Council