Monday, July 11, 2016

7 Pleasures: The Netherlands Premiere

During the Amsterdam Juli Dans festival there is no shortage of dance to be seen on weekends and weekday nights. One performance of this festival that truly explores the movement of the body through dance is 7 Pleasures. This is the second piece in the performance cycle The Red Pieces by Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen. By choreographing for 12 nude dancers, including herself, Ingvartsen investigates the meaning of nudity and sexuality in today’s society. Without the distraction of frivolous costumes, an emphasis is instead put on details of the dancer’s bodies. The fact that Mette Ingvartsen herself took part in the performance displays her extreme dedication to her concept and its execution. Days prior to the Netherlands premiere of 7 Pleasures, Ingvartsen danced in the solo piece 69 Positions. From this, we know that she is not shy with the audience or her body, and she brings this to the group piece 7 Pleasures.

The beginning of the piece set the mood and purpose for the rest of the hour and a half long performance. When the audience walked into the theatre, a loud and simple drumbeat was already emanating from the stage. The stage was set up with common everyday objects: a sofa off to stage right; two lights bulbs connected to tangled orange cord and to each other, so that if one was pulled down, the other would rise up; a potted plant; several chairs; a curtain comprised of hundreds of floor to ceiling plastic tubes; and a coffee table complete with coffee table books. It felt as though we were entering into a viewing of a modern living room from Ikea’s catalogue rather than the set for a dance performance. This set-up created an instant sense of intrigue. Why was the sofa set up where it was? How will the dancers interact with the table? How will the dancers even enter the stage if the stage is already lit up? The final question was to be answered soon.

After 15 minutes of percussion sounds pounding into the audience’s ears, a woman in the middle of the front row revealed her bare back. Next, a man off to the left stood up and began to unbutton his shirt. A female towards the back of the audience was already down to her underwear and down the stairs walked a man who is fully nude. One by one, the 12 dancers appeared in the audience, undressed themselves, walked with a purpose to the stage and assumed their positions. This choreographic choice blurred the lines between viewer and performer. Since the dancers seemed to come from the audience members themselves, the dancers were indeed a reflection of society itself. Usually in a dance performance, the dancers come out from backstage and set up in the dark and from that point are removed and on a different level than the audience. In those performances, the ones on stage are the dancers and the audience’s sole purpose is to watch. In 7 Pleasures, when the dancers protruded from the seats, it signified that they were one with the audience and that we were about to watch a manifestation of our own selves on stage.

In the next section of the piece, eleven dancers huddled around a black box in the corner of the stage while the twelfth lay sprawled on a chair downstage. The eleven dancers slowly morphed and moved themselves to join the twelfth dancer by pushing and rubbing along the floor and sliding over each other’s bodies. After a while, one could not tell where one body began and the other ended or who was male and who was female. It began to look like a conglomeration of limbs and movement and gave the form a living and sculptural quality. This was the first instance where the main points of Ingvartsen’s piece were made clear. Even when the dancers were extremely close and intimate with each other, it demonstrated that nudity is not inherently a sexual act. Each section of the piece had loose choreographic restrictions such as the quality of the movement, the timing, and the place in space. Beyond that, the movement was improvised, but it was never outright sexual. For example, halfway through the piece, the performers began to rub each other in time with the music. However, they never touched each other’s genitalia. The point was not to demonstrate sexual acts but to flip common stereotypes of sexuality on its head and use it to disrupt the negative connotations that sometimes come with being sexual or exploring one’s sexuality.

Use of sound from the dancers’ bodies towards the end of the piece elevated the performance to invoke a greater variety of senses. As the music grew louder and included more strange, guttural sounds, the dancers began to grunt or moan in time with the music. The timing and order of the dancer’s sounds were not random. It started with one dancer and then more and more added on until all 12 were included. The encroached onto the audience, and at one point, a dancer climbed over the seats and back into the audience.  This brought the piece to a circular closure; at the beginning, the dancers were born form the audience, they evolved on stage and discovered their sexuality, and then returned to where they came from.

By taking each separate section of 7 Pleasures out of context, 7 Pleasures could be misinterpreted as a dance solely about sex. The allusions to the sounds, positions, and different energies of sex throughout the performance point to this conclusion, but this is not the concept behind Ingvartsen’s choreography. She broke boundaries between the dancers and the audience early on in the piece and maintained a balance between comfort and discomfort. The balance allowed Ingvartsen’s choreography to push its limits and challenged how we view the human body beyond sexual purposes today. 

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