Mette Ingvartsen‘s new solo The Dancing Public, as the title suggests, is also a kind of collective party. It deals with our return to ‘normality’, and the way bodies gather together today. With Covid-safe tickets, ear plugs and mostly without masks, the audience at Brussels’ Kaaitheater enters an empty space that looks like a nightclub rather than a theatre – seats removed, three platforms in the corners of the room, strobe lights and pumping electronic music with infectious beats. Ingvartsen and her tech team are on their feet at the door, slowly moving to the beat, watching us enter.
Form and content come from the ‘dancing plagues’ of medieval Europe – rare events of infectious movement excess where a person would inexplicably start dancing all of a sudden, continuing until exhaustion, or even death. Others would follow uncontrollably, thus posing a threat to public order. Ingvartsen uses rhythmic spoken word, pop-style singing and quasi-religious chants to guide us discursively through this history of excessive dance and contamination – and does it in a both fun and creepy way: ‘Tonight we’ll be dancing, my hair will be dancing, your hot blood will be dancing.’
She moves with and among the audience, and occasionally takes the stage on one of the three platforms with convulsive movements, exploring figures of madness or possession. She’s laughing, sticking out her tongue, barking and running on all fours, but all with an ironic detachment that makes the performance constantly switch between horror and joke.
The pandemic being far from over, the anxiety of proximity can still be felt in the air. Ingvartsen, though, navigates consent and personal boundaries really well, never crossing a limit while remaining open for potential interactions. When the choreography ends, the dance is spilled into the spectators, freed from their obligation to perform ‘the audience’.
For all that, this show about excess feels sleek, controlled and professional. Perhaps it is less transgressive than it looks.