REVIEW: Gravity & Other Myths: Backbone is a “contemporary cool circus”

A flickering light reveals the members of the Australian circus company, Gravity & Other Myths, lying alongside carefully arranged props and costumes.

They spring into action and start preparing their performance space -moving buckets and sticks, changing costumes, and rather curiously Jascha Boyce suspiciously carries a rock through the audience.

This casual pedestrianism establishes a rehearsal feel to the whole performance, from their costumes to the experimental playfulness of their movement.

The company begins with a series of daring lifts, standing tall on each other’s’ shoulders – at times reaching as many as four highs.

These human towers navigate the space with total ease and an almost blasé attitude as if to set the bar for the audacious stunts to come. But from this gutsy beginning comes fear as the company cower away from a line of dirt.

Backbone. Photo by Carnival Cinema

The fear fades with a series of superhuman acrobatics and the distribution of earth across the entire stage.

At the root of these astonishing stunts and tricks lies an exploration of strength, in every sense of the word. Strength is tested in all its forms – brute strength, control, endurance, balance, trust, emotion.

These tests were both personal and collective, challenging their strength as a company, both literally, as the men support a counterweight of rocks that threaten the contorting women below, and metaphorically, through amusing yet competitive team building games.

Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory’s atmospheric live score and Geoff Cobham dynamic lighting design complement the tension of the piece at every turn.

The thrilling and nail-biting sequences are punctuated with random and rather bizarre moments which add a much needed giggle to the otherwise intense performance.

An infamous suit of armour makes several appearances, a symbol of strength but with a stark contrast to the subtlety and mobility of its acrobatic counterparts, initiating many a humorous moment – in particular, a rather restricted attempt at the floss!

Backbone. Photo by Darcy Grant

There is no denying the resolve of the company as they rise to a final challenge. Even after the exhausting moments of a frantic reprise the performers line up and hold out heavy rocks.

This is the final test of strength as their biceps twitch with fatigue and their faces grimace against the pain. A display of strength that is so authentic that it leaves even the audience drained after the exhilarating adrenaline pumped demonstration of virtuosic power.

The aptly named Gravity & Other Myths is redefining circus with this production of Backbone. They have stripped it back to reveal a subtle and honest theatrical experience that can be defined as contemporary cool circus.

Reviewed at Southbank Centre on the 14th of August.