Sunday evening, 21 July 2019 – the densely packed hall of the Akademie Theater in Vienna burst into an applause that did not subside for almost ten minutes. Twelve half-naked dancers of Mette Ingvartsen’s 7 pleasures were coming back for a bow again and again, having performed an acapella vocalisation of a collective orgasm. This intriguing musical number turned out to be the last ‘pleasure’ of the 100-minute piece by the Danish choreographer, who is famous, among other things, for a series of works on desire and sexuality called The Red Pieces. Usually featured separately, this year the whole series was presented by the ImPulsTanz international dance festival. Evidently these shows, however weird and disturbing, hit right into the heart of the international audience – and perhaps even got into their pants.
The Red Pieces currently comprise four works. 69 positions (2014) and 21 pornographies (2017) are solos by Ingvartsen herself, while 7 pleasures (2015) and to come (extended) (2017) are collective performances for twelve and fifteen dancers respectively. In various ways, the pieces question well-established images of sexual practices, explore how desire and sexual energy are appropriated by capitalism, investigate the affinity between the public and the intimate, and try to invent new modes of erotic relationship.
One of the most powerful images in the pieces is the orgy, which appears most prominently in 7 pleasures and to come (extended). In both works it serves to question patriarchal and couple-based sexual practices, but the critique unfolds in different ways. In the first part of to come, an orgy is a means to depersonalise and de-identify the dancers, as they perform pornographic scenes in tight blue suits that hide age, gender and national differences. Penetration, a symbol of male power and supremacy, is replaced here by mutual frottage. The imagery, thus, stays sex-positive, but loses its binding to aggression against women, which has historically been in the heart of mainstream pornography.