Mild-mannered, middle-aged adorableness from Norway

At the outset of Baktruppen’s “Un-Do-Three”—presented at PS 122’s NØ5 Norway in New York festival of Norwegian experimental dance, theater, and performance art––seven men and women lay supine, end to end, each grasping the next in line, and firmly pushing backward across the floor. This slug of prodigious length labored its way from the prevailing gloom toward a narrow corridor of light. When the lead man reached that lit space, he rose to his feet and helped the next dancer to stand. She, in turn, assisted the person behind her. And so it went—an unfurling line of mild-mannered, middle-aged Scandinavians dressed in unitards, especially revealing on the men, who linked hands and gazed at the audience in silent self-consciousness.

This evolutionary journey required great physical effort. So we were surprised when the dancers suddenly broke rank and walked out of the room. All that hard work for nothing? Soon enough, they returned, repeating the slithery gambit and lineup a few more times. One variation, partly obscured by billowing machine-made fog, made them look like Nessie undulating across her Scottish loch. Some audience members chuckled, but the prospect of an hour of postmodern cuteness was not promising. Happily, Baktruppen had other thoughts in mind. Or perhaps not thoughts in mind but “no mind”––a Zen-like state of being that first arose, as program notes told us, from the troupe’s deep study of a Merce Cunningham dance at a former convent in rural Portugal. Whatever.

Baktruppen’s adorableness initially threatened to distract from the shimmering beauty of the dance’s play of light and shadow. The notes do not credit a lighting designer, but surely this aspect of the production was arguably its most crucial. In “Un-Do-Three,” dancers sought out light the way a plant inclines towards the sun; light discovered and was discovered by each performer. They slid under its rays, and its rays glided over their bodies. To leave this intimate relationship could be an act of bravery, of shamanism, or a journey without return. In one sequence, a man lifted the end of a long black runner that stretched across the lit patch of space, and his colleagues, one by one, dropped down and burrowed into its darkness.

With their paunchy physiques and modest, unsensational behavior, Baktruppen’s Øyvind Berg, Trine Falch, Ingvild Holm, Jørgen Knudsen, Per Henrik Svalastog, Bo Krister Wallström, and Worm Winther always seemed caught up in a story larger than their individual selves. Call them clowns dancing ever closer to the edge.

The two-week festival, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Norway’s independence from Sweden, also featured dance by zero visibility corp, and multidisciplinary works by the Verdensteateret collective, Hooman Sharifi/Impure Company, and Ole Mads Vevle.