The term “op traken” is Norwegian, and describes the act of a skier swiftly jumping and tucking their legs beneath them in order to avoid sailing over a bump in the course.
Galactik Ensemble’s Optraken takes this quick, nervy, edge-of-disaster energy and turns it into what the company describes as “situational acrobatics” that respond to the changing circumstance of the stage.
If this sounds tediously cerebral, its execution is anything but. Optraken is charming. Five performers – each dressed in unassuming ‘smart casual’ clothes – battle with a hostile set that is on the attack.
Sacks of flour and weighted bouquets drop from the ceiling. Offstage machines fire tennis balls. The performers find themselves suspended from the rafters, trapped in plastic bags, chased by the walls. Every new, farcical indignity is met with a deadpan Buster Keaton-esque stoicism that is very comic.
There are sections that thrill with their technical tightness. The opening scenes see the five performers appearing and vanishing like cards in a card trick, as three moving black screens obscure and uncover them; it looks like a magic even after the process is revealed.
The ensemble are all graduates of French circus school ENACR (L’École Nationale des Arts du Cirque de Rosny-sous-Bois), but, despite the stuntman strength needed to scale moving walls and backbend out of the way of ballistics, the aesthetic is low-key, almost improvisational (though the choreography is clearly tightly planned – or else injuries would abound).
Scrawled messages on blackboards suggest a magnificent thesis behind the show, but Optraken works with superb wordless performance and humour alone.