Norway in New York Festival Review | Baktruppen

Blithe Spirits Wrapped Up in Some Unlikely Bodies

Published: December 6, 2005

The lights go down and a scuffling, dragging noise is heard. A bald head comes into view, attached to a body that is attached to another and another, all of them forming a human centipede inching along on their backs down an aisle into the stage space. Seven performers stand and are revealed as bespectacled, older-than-usual dancers, several with the uncertain midriffs of middle age spreading inside their black and white unitards. Baktruppen has arrived, part of the Norway in New York festival at Performance Space 122, where the company performed on Saturday night.

Baktruppen performed "Un-Do-Three" on Saturday night at Performance Space 122, part of the Norway in New York festival.

"Un-Do-Three," the work presented by the zany troupe, is actually two pieces. The first is fascinating in the way it takes unlikely bodies doing unlikely things to totally unlikely music by Mahler in an oddball space that the performers make full use of. The second, inspired too much by the Merce Cunningham-Elliot Caplan film "Deli Commedia," soon squanders a lot of the good will this charming group builds up in the first half.

Mahler's elegiac "Adagietto" may give the first section an extra depth and emotional complexity. But before too long the repeated, dogged centipede journeys in and out, eventually accompanied by muffled grunts, groans and a giggle or two from the performers, come to suggest some mammoth human endeavor. That impression is reinforced by the handsome uncredited lighting and by images like one tall stooped man helping the others up, one by one, as they inch toward him. The performers' offhanded manipulations of props like a smoke machine and a tape recorder add to the effect.

Learning the Cunningham-Caplan film by heart gave the seven-member troupe an apparently welcome sense of "empty-headedness," according to program notes. That is one way to describe the silliness and self-indulgence of the long second part. It started promisingly with funky music performed on rural Norwegian Agave harps and featured an imaginative integration of stagehands into the action. But a little intentionally inept gamboling goes a long way.

Norway in New York continues through Tuesdayat Performance Space 122, 150 First Avenue, at Ninth Street, East Village; (212) 477-5288 or