Katleen Van Langendonck & Eva Decaesstecker
Moving in Concert Interview with Mette Ingvartsen
In recent years, the Danish choreographer and dancer Mette Ingvartsen has often developed her productions in the form of cycles. Her new performance Moving in Concert is the beginning of a new series about technology. The piece imagines a universe where humans, technologies and natural materials coexist to create an abstract set of movement. When this conversation took place, Ingvartsen was still in the midst of the creative process, but she lifted a tip of the veil for us.
You are currently working on a new performance – Moving in Concert – that will premiere at Kaaitheater in October. Could you tell us about the themes that you are exploring in this piece?
What I want to explore with Moving in Concert is the body’s abstract relation to technology. Or rather, how to understand technology as something that is active within our bodies even when we are no longer directly connected to technological extensions, such as computers, tablets and telephones. I am interested in how the incorporation of technology into our bodies transforms the neurological patterns in our brains. How it changes the way we sense, think, live and feel.
In your previous performance series on sexuality, The Red Pieces, you already touched on the influence of technology on our bodies, for example by the pharmaceutical industry. Which other aspects from that series will you be addressing in this new work?
The idea of non-human agency and the body’s relation to objecthood is a theme I was already exploring within The Red Pieces, but also even earlier when I was making The Artificial Nature Series. In my mind, this new work actually started as an attempt to bring together those two strands of research: on one hand the work I have done on sexuality and the human body, and on the other the choreographies I have made for non-humans. As you can imagine, this was not an easy match, and in the end, I decided simply to go in an entirely new direction. What I find exciting to focus on right now is to search for relations between the performativity of humans, technologies and natural materials, and to explore varied forms of co-existence between these elements. Many of the performers in Moving in Concert have also been part of my previous group works and this creates a strong continuity from the previous series, despite the topics diverging in new directions.
You speak about technology and the brain; how do you think these two inter-relate within today’s society?
What interests me in general is how the body is transformed by technology, and how our neurological patterns are changing because of the way we use technological tools. Today, technology enables us to think and to do things we have not been able to do before, but it also creates new illnesses that we have not had to face in the past. If you think about it from a scientific perspective, this is manifested in how the body is literally being modified by scientists in areas like microbiology, genetic engineering, neuro-science, or from a more dystopic perspective within the pharmaceutical industry.
The technological condition is today no longer only about mechanically extending the body, but also about literally transforming it from the inside out. It suffices to watch our computers, telephones and tablets for more than eight hours a day to understand how the images, texts, intimate communications and social networks similarly transform our mental structures, moods and our bodily sensations.
You do not use those very recognizable technological tools in the piece. Instead you use wireless LED lights, with which the performers create all kinds of abstract and social formations. Why did you make this decision to abstract away from concrete uses of technological tools?
In the piece, we work a lot on the perception of light, shadow and colour. One of the focuses is circular movement and turning and spinning with the lights as a task that forces a specific neurological activity both for the performers and for the audience. At first this turning might seem like an isolating practice as it is impossible to fully see each other while doing it, but in fact it simply relies on a different form of sociality than the ones we know from everyday life. What we aim for is to produce an abstract form of togetherness where rhythm, speed, colour, and the fact that sharing an intense and demanding physical activity produces a different form of collective behaviour.
To me this almost metaphorical way of handling technological tools was more interesting than showing what we all know too well – how to use a smartphone or a computer creatively.
What does working with abstraction offer, according to you?
In my latest solo 21 pornographies, I needed to address certain issues like the abuse of power, violence or sexualized torture. For these topics I did not feel that abstraction was the right strategy; I needed to address them head on. During the research for that performance, however, I discovered other materials that I found very exciting although they did not make it into the piece.
Moving in Concert comes out of those discoveries, but also out of a wish to work more abstractly than I have done in the past ten years. For me, dance and choreography have never been isolated fields of expression that can be completely dissociated from social and political questions. But right now, the concerns I have implicitly have a level of abstraction built into them which makes my work evolve in that direction. In that sense, abstraction offers the possibility to address questions I have about our society. Questions concerning the sensory mechanisms of our bodies, the effect that technology has on our brains and how neurological patterns are changing accordingly. At the same time, abstraction also invites the audience to engage with movement and choreography without offering a narrative reference or semantic content, as had been the case in my more recent works.
Another key topic in Moving in Concert is ‘plasticity’. What is your understanding of this term? And how does it resonate in the piece?
The idea of plasticity actually comes from neuroscience, in which scientists speak about the plasticity of the brain, or the brain’s capacity to transform and build new neurological patterns while at the same time also having a capacity to resist external influence. Catherine Malabou in her book What Should We Do with Our Brains (2004) has taken this neurological research as a cue to address current problems within our knowledge and information-driven economies, like for instance the problem of precariousness or the demand for flexibility that many people face today. This book was very inspiring, but at the same time I did not know exactly what to do with its content in regard to making a performance. Instead of trying to translate it, I started to think about what plasticity in an artistic practice could mean or what it would look like in a performative form. Moving in Concert is the result of that thought experiment.
Why is the piece called Moving in Concert?
The performance is called Moving in Concert because it is inherently a piece about being and moving together, and perhaps also about how to rethink those issues from within the history of dance. What currently interests me is to think about collectivity across different forms of existence. If we think about the collectivity of humans only, then the social, or the idea of co-existence appears in a specific way. If we try to think about collectivity across that line and include humans, technologies, and natural materials, we need a new imaginary. When I first started thinking about the piece I actually called it “Moving in Concert (with things)” to indicate that what we need today is to reconsider how we cross-breed with non-human elements and how this transforms our human ways of relating, not only to each other but also to the non-human elements that inhabit this earth with us. What I am searching for at the moment is a different balance between humans, technologies and natural materials, towards more nuanced and experimental forms of co-existence, or perhaps even an unexpected resistant form of being together.