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Mette Ingvartsen: 7 Pleasures

How to make nudity and sex boring.

A scene from Mette Ingvartsen’s “7 Pleasures” (Photos credit: Marc Coudrais)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

In the program notes to her 7 Pleasures, Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen’s work was compared to the Judson Church cultural revolution of the early 1960’s that eschewed ornament and production values in an effort to bring dance—and other art forms—back to its minimalist basics. She honestly believes she is an artistic descendant of those imaginative and brave artists. I was there and can say without a doubt that she certainly is not. Nudity is not part of the minimalist philosophy which was all about tasks and the appreciation of stillness.

Ingvartsen has a record of intellectualizing her work taking all the juice out of them in the process. 7 Pleasures—a misnomer if there ever was one—takes her dry, over thinking to the extreme in a work that somehow made the nudity and sexual activities of her twenty-something cast members boring and ugly. (There’s something unappealing about a stage-full of performers jingling all their various body parts as they did in one extended section of 7 Pleasures, no matter how it related to “that other crucial element [of dance], the body,” or “political, sexual, desiring, linguistic, historical, racialized, gendered, and agential flesh matter.”)

An ear-assaulting drum rhythm track greeted the audience members as they entered the NYU Skirball Center. Soon young audience members quietly rose at their seats and stripped off all their clothing, necessitating their having to scramble naked down their rows this close to surprised audience members, and wandering onto the stage with its very ordinary compilation of everyday furniture assembled by Ingvartsen and Minna Tiikkainen. The music and soundtrack, which varied from droning to rhythmic, was by Peter Lenaerts and Will Guthrie. The lighting by Ms. Tiikkainen was annoying in its arbitrariness.

Mette Ingvartsen (Photo credit: Danny Willems)

Thereafter, they assembled upstage right near a couch and crawled unabashedly as a group—oozing over and under each other—to an area downstage left where they re-congealed only to spread themselves around the stage to engage in all sorts of suggestive activity in various combinations of one, two and three. Several even re-entered the audience—one performer squeezing her naked body between the first row and the stage!—and gyrated as if alone in their own rooms dancing in front of mirrors. Their lack of embarrassment made any prudishness disappear.

Ingvartsen did, indeed, give tasks to her dancers, having one man push a chair with his chest, another caressing a potted plant and yet another massaging a plush chair. Unlike in the Judson works, these tasks had context.

I appreciated the openness of the cast and their beauty as far as that went. I did not appreciate how Ingvartsen constructed her work, its dryness and repulsiveness and the sense that this was little more than creative playtime for adults. Ingvartsen seems never to have heard of the concept of pacing. Each section went on too long after its point was made and drained the work of meaning.

There were hints of Pasolini’s Salo and its laissez-fare assault on morality and Richard Schechner’s Dionysus’69 but none of their garish entertainment.

Mette Ingvartsen: 7 Pleasures (September 29 and 30, 2017)

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit http://www.nyuskirball.org

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (229 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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