Skatepark interview with Mette Ingvartsen

Wilson Personnic has interviewed Mette Ingvartsen for the french magazine
Here's an excerpt of the interview.

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Mette Ingvartsen - Foto: Bea Borgers

After projects that questioned how we represent and perceive nature and sexuality in society, your latest work seems to address new questions and ideas… Could you share some of the background behind your artistic research and how it’s evolved over time?

Skatepark is indeed part of a new direction within my work, and one that has been developing over the last 3 years. The Artificial Nature Series and The Red Pieces were more thematic cycles concentrating on one topic in a kaleidoscopic way, whereas the pieces I’ve been developing recently do not share a common topic, but rather a more general approach towards an expansive and ‘permeable’ choreography. The way I’m working at the moment is based on observing movements that already exist in public space (for instance skateboarding) or in the world (like migratory movements) to understand what they express, or what they are an expression of. Through this, I have also started working with performers who are not educated as dancers, but come from other backgrounds and differ in ages.

I asked all the performers to each bring 5 songs or pieces of music that for them would fit in our skatepark.

Mette Ingvartsen

Mette Ingvartsen Skatepark c Bea Borgers 84a
- Foto: Bea Borgers

Formally, Skatepark is very different from your previous projects. How does this new piece draw on or echo your past work? Where does the new creation fit in the larger body of your research?

Skatepark isn’t so different from my previous works if you look at it conceptually. I often start from observations of phenomena or social practices that exist in the world, and try to understand those through choreography. This is also how I started working on Skatepark. What’s different for me is that for the first time I’m working with performers, across generations, where the majority don’t have professional training in the performing arts. This has challenged my practice tremendously and has opened up new ways of working together. I often think of this piece as a group portrait of all the performers in it. For instance, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with singing, an activity I observed in the skatepark, but I did not know which songs we would sing, nor who would be singing them. So, I asked all the performers to each bring 5 songs or pieces of music that for them would fit in our skatepark. The soundtrack was developed from this approach and from the songs they proposed, and combined with approaches I was interested in continuing myself from The Dancing Public, where I was working with singing overlaid on electronic music.

I’m also still working on ideas around community and collectivity, and through that trying to understand the counterculture or subculture that skateboarding is. This echoes earlier works where I was trying to understand the counterculture of the 1960s.

I often start from observations of phenomena or social practices that exist in the world, and try to understand those through choreography.

Mette Ingvartsen

In The Life Work I worked with Japanese women in their late 70s and 80s who migrated to Germany when they were in their 20s. The piece is based on their personal stories – it is a collection of individual portraits that also form a larger collective whole. In The Dancing Public I enter into a collaboration with the audience as I attempt to reactivate movements and narratives about dancing manias, or dance epidemics as they were also called, that took hold in the streets during the Middle Ages.

I think Skatepark is a continuation of these approaches. During the last year I’ve had several concentrated periods of work with a group of 12 skaters and dancers between 11 to 35 years old. Some of them have only skated for a couple of years, while others have been moving on wheels for more than half their lives.

Mette Ingvartsen Skatepark c Bea Borgers 4
- Foto: Bea Borgers

For Skatepark, you were interested in the world of the skatepark. What is it about this place and its people that attracted your curiosity? What potential did you see in the space? Could you retrace the origins of Skatepark?

The idea for Skatepark came about 4 years ago, in a period when I was spending a lot of time with my two kids at Ursulines Skatepark in the centre of Brussels. I found the speed and the precision of the skaters’ movements very impressive, and it also reconnected me to a period of my life, as a teenager, when I was roller-skating myself. I used to love being on wheels and experiencing the flow of movement: the feeling of being able to defy physical laws like gravity, surface friction, or resistance. Watching the skaters at Ursulines brought back those memories and sensations of gliding through space. It was something I practiced a lot in parallel with my dance training.

It was not only the fluidity and flow of movement that made me interested in working on a performance, but also the hard work, the repetition, and the persistence of someone who wants to pull off a certain move and will never give up trying. It is laborious work to become good at skating and to acquire the necessary skills to feel free while gilding on wheels. This was a contradiction I found very interesting – the fact that fluidity and flow does not come on its own, but is something that needs to be articulated, rehearsed, tried, and tested – and within that I found a metaphor for society in general. What if a skatepark was a microcosm of the world? What would we then be able to learn from it?

I also had the feeling that I was seeing an unusually heterogenous community co-existing in a very organic way. Not to say that there are no conflicts or frictions at the Ursulines Skatepark, but I had the feeling that it remains a public space or square that is organised in a rather open and inclusive way, permitting all kinds of different activities to take place.

Read the full interview in French
Read the full interview in English

Skatepark, 26. - 28. oktober 2023