Review: Mette Ingvartsen - The Artificial Nature Project - Platform Theatre

Performance: 18 & 19 September 2014
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 22 September 2014

'The Artificial Nature Project' Photo: Jan Lietaert

Performance reviewed: 18 September

Appropriately embedded in the Platform Theatre , Central St Martins, Mette Ingvartsen’s The Artificial Nature Project is about the manipulation of objects, the shifting landscapes they create and a devolved focus on the human performer.

For the first quarter of the show, large silver confetti showers down from the curtain rig onto a blacked-out stage. A slither of light illuminates the paper particles and transforms them into swarms of fire flies. Mesmeric and trippy, one begins to see all kinds of images: bubbles, star constellations, a sparkly curtain rising up from the floor.

As more light is cast on the stage we can make out the performers covered from head to toe in protective clothing like workers in a nuclear plant. They travel around the stage with efficient functionality, handling and sorting the various materials and objects, moving only to fulfil specific tasks. There’s no dance technique or phrasing, Ingvartsen’s team deflect our gaze away from them and on to the materials which they so skilfully arrange and rearrange. It’s very refreshing. While not mechanical like robots, they work the stage like theatre technicians, industrious, calm and strangely reassuring.

As the falling paper particles drift and pile up on stage the performers slowly start sifting through it with their hands and bodies. They mobilise the paper slowly and with such control that it takes on a liquid property, like mercury oozing from their bodies. Again I’m amazed at how Ingvartsen and her team can mess with my visual perspective.

The next landscapes become vertical. As the workers hurl and scatter the silver confetti up in the air, they form huge geysers, then through the use of tools – leaf blowers, large reflective boards and changing lighting states, the materials continue to metamorphose, conveying other images and emotional states.

When red lighting is cast on the silver particles, they take on a more menacing, violent property. The leaf blowers, set on the heaps of paper, make intense noise and chaos as they fire the particles up to the roof in explosive fireworks and bonfires. While the performers are still in control, there is a new urgency about them, similar to that of riot police or firemen on red alert. We can hear their panting as their movements become more vigorous and it’s striking how this state of emergency contrasts with the cool, untroubled atmosphere that preceded it.

When sheets of foil are blasted into the air by the blowers and swirled around like clothes in a washing machine, they suggest an outer space sensation of disconnection and rootlessness. As the sheets bunch up together they take on the appearance of a huge monster, an artificial life that could easily have been created by digital technology on a screen.

There’s no end to the rich visual content that Ingvartsen is able to morph from very little. Hers is the skill of being able to harness the properties of simple materials and transform them into a theatrical spectacle and while The Artificial Nature Project is a little long, it’s an exciting start to the Northern Light season.

Northern Light is a celebration of Nordic dance, showcasing a range of artists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway until 14 November.
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Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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