Adelaide-based Gravity & Other Myths is directed by Darcy Grantand stuns in their new show BACKBONE at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, a mesmerizing blend of physical theatre/circus /acrobatics . It is a virtuoso performance of rigorous discipline , super-elite physical acrobatics . The company has been previously nominated for Helpmann awards.
There is a hugely warm ensemble feel yet a lot of it has a trancelike contemplative feel : the ‘Zen of circus’ perhaps ? The cast use buckets to spread earth – not just on stage but pour it on particular ensemble members. At times I was perhaps reminded of Cloudgate Dance or possibly Pina Bausch company performances . There are also sections with long poles and martial arts like moves. Humour is also included (the funny dancing Knight in armour for example).
There is no set as such , the stage is stripped back to the walls. The futuristic atmospheric lighting by Geoff Cobham is magnificent , with haze and diagonal shafts of light for example. The music as performed live by Elliot Zoerner & Shenton Gregory includes everything from romantic piano and percussion to throbs ,humms and burbles adding counterpoint to the action.
The curtain rises to reveal stillness and silence on stage. All the props costumes and cast are laid out ready to spring into action . As their first scene the cast enthusiastically assemble the set , shifting clothes racks etc. Costumes are mostly assorted comfortable casual wear , the suit of armour quite incongruous (and requiring much strength to wear it).
BACKBONE is about almost superhuman fluidity, flexibility and strength . From acts of demanding precision ,agility and strength the show proceeds in various vignettes to competitions and displays that test the performers strength and endurance. There are almost impossible feats of twisty tumbling and pyramid balancing as well as trapeze like jumps ,throws and catches. One cast member balances for an entire scene, another remains holding his arm out for the length of a different scene.
Highlights include a sequence where one of the cast – Jascha Boyce in a grey suit – holding a rock , staring intently at the audience , is passed around the ensemble , seeming oblivious while performing various acrobatic feats.
Mieke Lizotte has a balancing sequence and at one point it is as if she is a dead warrior or gladiator draped on the poles . There is a sequence where almost all the ensemble form a human pyramid , wearing the buckets over their heads. The choreography includes Martian arts/ capoeira, the reverse caterpillar and flying drop kicks, which while defensive and dangerous are performed with warmth and joy . There are no harnesses or safety nets so the sense of possible danger has us on the edge of our seats at times and sometimes you shake your head and blink going did they actually just really manage to do that ?
The final scene is an act of endurance the ensemble stand in a line competing to see who can hold a stone in front of them the longest . BACKBONE shows us the freedom of strength and agility and the dazzling beauty of the extra fit human body performing almost impossible feats.