EUROPE AS WE SPEAK
MARIT STRØMMEN ON BAKTRUPPEN'S ROUGH GUIDE TO EUROPE
As we speak, history is made. And made up. Each story can be boiled down to certain amounts of habit, misinterpretation and truth. Truth is tricky. Truth can be anything you want it to be, any destillation of memory. History is truthful in so many ways. Once a row of kings gave a kid a higher testscore than the family-tree of cartoon caracters. Once every war had its graveyard, every hero his statue. Isolating one country's history from another gave people national identity.
But as we speak, history is pronounced anew. Methods of documentation change. The history of myth, the history of the everyday, the history of comics, womens history, childrens history, digital TVhistory, all these histories are expanding the context. The historiographic concept of one collective memory, belonging to all citizens of a state, is fading. As it turns out, the good old days were actually bad, and so communities are constructed for people to be stuck in new ways. Europe is such a new way. The european community is a construction for the sake of capitalism and fear of history. True or false? The truth is that everything about Europe is relative. Wether seen from a bar in Bonn or a desert in the Middle East, Europe looks different. A guide is in order.
Bak-truppens new production Eurohæ is a guide as rough as they get. In one hour a dozen performers and a dozen extras make their way through urban culture in Europe. In films, monologues, choreographies and songs, Bak-truppen make their point about the state of Europe. A selection of cities to stop in are chosen by norwegian author Dag Solstad who offers his own comments on the trip. These taped reflections and the action of the performers captures Europe in all its destructive corruption and bureaucratic prostitution.
The ride onstage goes along a railroad where Europe is shown with the sunny side down. The sun may only be rented, and destiny is as rigid as a minibank withdrawal. Sightseeing in bars and cemetarys, the traveler is always confronted with history. It's dead but won't lie down. From Moscow through the continent to London, europeans are haunted by the ghosts of history. Every inch of the European map is occupied by historic events, the present is usually underestimated. So apathy invades daily life, and Brussels is the central whore that makes any move for money.
But with Bak-truppen a problem never is tragic. The deeper the trouble, the happier a Baktruppen performance carries on. Capitalisms last convulsions are presented as a battle of the ghosts with the living. Europes future is predicted according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This reading of egyptology is one of Bak-truppens approaches to the situation of capitalism in Europe. When dead the process of digestion is reversed and capitalism will have to eat its own shit.
As the performance moves along its European journey, the living on stage are always confronted by zombies off-stage. Pre-teenage girls surrounding the stage harass the members of Bak-truppen once they move too close to the edge, the place where the ritual of performance stops. The girls are long-haired personifications of history with strictly one pattern of reaction: they invade the present performance whenever consulted. The constant conflict between the innovative energy of the living, and the reconstructive energy of the dead, is a major theme in Eurohæ. In Europe the same opposite energies are fighting for space. Monuments for communist leaders and memorials for Holocaust victims are put up and torn down. Historic graves are handled in controversial ways. In the end architects and cityplanners are the ones writing the history that surrounds people on a daily basis. History is present everywhere, impossible to shake off.
Bak-truppen brings the notion of the living dead to debate for primarily two reasons: 1)People are surrounded by the dead. History ensures a certain connection with the dead. 2) People are acting dead. The prime source of information is television, and television is a thing that acts alive although it is dead. Eventually the apathy of entertainment is excluding us from access to vitality. People get disoriented, we act like unthoughtful, TV-consuming zombies with no drive to make our own history. Some are disoriented enough to assume to be living in between wars. Bak-truppen says: "To orient oneself means to turn to the east. Anyone who does not turn to the east first, is disoriented. The west is home of the dead."
One crucial angle of incidence to Eurohæ is Bak-truppens portrayal of the living dead. On stage it goes like this: each corpse attends to their own stash and no common ground is in sight. All of a sudden the whole group of performers meet in the astoundingly synchrone chorus line I need cash. This song is reminicent of a unification song attempting to replace every european country's national song. It merges the fun of a seventies disco beat with the trauma of having your card sucked in when trying to withdraw money from a minibank. With the lyrics from minibank hell, and in many other ways, small details are played up to reveal the big picture. Shifts of narration between the micro- and macroperspective makes the performance a political as much as a social event.
The music and comedy onstage evolves around Europe and its problems of identity, politics and history. True to their reputation of unpredictability, the members of Bak-truppen speak with many voices. Film, monologues, death metal vocals and hardcore puppet theater continously destables the music and comedy. The musical composition and the humor makes a Eurohæ performance recognizable as such. Music and lyrics keep up the flow of poetry and politics within the performance, and holds the stageaction together as a traveling piece of communication.
Eurohæ changes as its tour schedule proceeds. On each location the performance tours through Europe from Moscow to Dublin. The action always stops at certain cities. Smolensk, Krakow, Prague, Karlowy Vary,Heidelberg, Bonn, Brussels, London and Wolverhampton opens for reflections on where we are now, metaphorically and historically speaking. The journey is staged as a guide that offers different ways of writing recent European history. The performance should not be missed by any biographer of European sexual history. Pop culture cliches is another frame of reference in this show which comes across as a very serious political expression with a very funny twist.
As Eurohæ goes on, people may sit back and watch. Before showtime, the stage is as dead as communism. Spider's web is all over. The stage is the space where the dead can dance. Upon entering the stage, candles are lit. Photographic images of Eastern Europe in the seventies are on canvas, lit from behind. When Baktruppen lights the lights in eastern Europe, nostalgia is banned. When messages of unpeacefulness are delivered through swastica-shaped microphones, Bak-truppen are way beyond irony. History shows that every declaration of peace is followed by war. To be precise, Baktruppen labels Europe a war zone, a place in a constant state of war. The gas war, the drug war, the mafia war, the hormone war, the mine war, the Kosovo war, the fotball war, the nine to five war, the police war, hunger, you name it.
Again Bak-truppen makes it their business to reveal weak points and
structural flaws in the system that frames our lives. To do the job, a famous cartoon caracter is blown up on a big storyboard to become a superior storyteller. The logics goes like this: if anyone is between wars, that must be a fictious person, somebody like the Phantom. Equipped with an impressive row of ancestors, always able to calm a conflict, the cartoon hero is the no-bullshit narrator who initiates the performance. The mission of the Phantom is to exterminate outsiders. His mark of goodness looks like a swastica. His message is that european society is not in deep shit, there is room for action. But prospects are weak when everyone alive act like zombies six feet under.
The theme of the zombies was fancied by Henrik Ibsen in his play Ghosts. There the young must pay for the deeds and misfortunes of their forefathers. In Eurohæ people are abused by history, and nobody seems to care. No value jugdements are being made in the performance, on the contrary every spectator may find different points of relevance. The only obvious situation on stage is that the dead are giving the living a hard time, and that living ghosts do exist. The merger of traditional theater with pop culture is a symptom of today, but Bak-truppen joins Ibsen and the Phantom for more than merely narrative reasons. Instead of the inherited punishment of disease, as in Ghosts, outsiders and criminals are punished to live morally and hygenically clean according to the standards of people who function well in society. Outcasts are jugded according to the court of the Phantom. There is only good or evil.
This point is taken to the extreme in one of the four films in Eurohæ, featuring an in-depth story about a stolen taxi. Combining equal parts of Alexander Calder-like figures and fake snuff movie effects such as canned spagetti, the story of the stolen vehicle is elaborated in a messy puppet theater of paper dolls. With the vivid, socio-economic destiny of the stolen taxi, the mechanisms in cartheft are displayed as a position for cultural critique. Arguments can be followed such as: What does a low profile crime, small enough to never hit the news, say about some other mastodont structure, e.g. the european monetary union, or any economically constituted community?
Another film makes the point of carsmashing explicit. It might look useless in its own, but as ritual uniting people with common urges, it makes sense as action and therapy. If a car is old, why make it historic? Equally unpretentious is the no-fuzz choreography that unites the performers in intervals throughout the performance. The steps that unite can be done without thinking. And so Europe moves along. It's history will never be rewinded, just like a Eurohæ performance will never be repeated in the exact same way. How we look at Europe and it's history will continue to change. For sure Baktruppen will still be seen speaking about it.
Last Updated: 08-03-2001