Australian Dance Reviews

Mette Ingvartsen’s ‘7 Pleasures’ explores the body at Melbourne Festival

Mette Ingvartsen. Photo by Danny Willems.
Mette Ingvartsen. Photo by Danny Willems.

Arts Centre Playhouse, Melbourne.
19 October 2017.

Early Judaeo-Christian mythologies indoctrinate us in the shame of our body. Eve feels this when she eats the apple, that she is unclothed. 7 Pleasures takes the audience’s shame and plays with it, by exposing us to the oddness, beauty and sensuality of naked human forms. It is created by Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen and was presented at the Arts Centre Playhouse as part of the 2017 Melbourne Festival programming.

7 Pleasures draws attention to the materiality of bodies, how much we hide them, how idiosyncratic they are, how they give us a shared experience, that we each have a body. 7 Pleasures is about the liberation of the body from the socio-cultural constraints of clothing. Just as children play with their body and love to see and feel themselves in movement, this work reminds us of our own relationship to having a body, and our forgetting of its innate somatic wisdom.

We begin with dancers planted in the audience. The dancers each stand up and disrobe amongst the seated audience, and then make their way on to the stage. They form a heap of bodies, stacked on top of one another. This mass of entangled bodies makes its way from one side of the Playhouse stage to the other. This compelling spectacle takes place over as long as 10 minutes. Exploiting duration is one device 7 Pleasures uses as dramaturgy. This excess duration may frustrate many viewers but allows audience members to overcome their shock at the cultural transgression of all these naked bodies in movement.

The work proceeds through scenes exploring various modes of the sensuality of bodies: the pleasures of darkness, the pleasures of human contact, the pleasures of tactility, the pleasures of extreme body practices, the pleasures of connection with others. The pleasure of dancers is also present, their willingness to be observed, their knowingness and their forgiveness at the audience’s shock. 

This is not a work for everyone. You need to be willing to be challenged, your politics need to be progressive and your aesthetics highly contemporary. Several groups in the conservative Melbourne audience walked out. One man in the audience called out over the applauding crowd, “Next stop, Saudi Arabia.” This kind of public call out is rare in Australian performance, and signals that this work has had unusual impact.

Watch out for this choreographer Mette Ingvartsen. She is resident at The Volksbuhne in Berlin until 2022. If 7 Pleasures comes to your city, it is not to be missed. 

By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.

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