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Review: Gravity and Other Myths' Backbone

Adelaide Festival

Forget sequins, glitter and extravagant costumes, this is circus as you've never seen it before, pushed to its conceptual and cerebral limits.

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Adelaide Festival attracts leading international artists from across the globe – which makes it all the more impressive that one of its stand-out shows this year comes from an exceptional physical theatre company based here in Adelaide.

Over the past eight years, Gravity and Other Myths has taken a giant leap skyward.

From humble beginnings with iconic Adelaide organisation Cirkidz, the group has gone on to receive international acclaim and numerous awards at festivals around the world. Its latest show, Backbone – a genre-defying, thought-provoking, visual extravaganza – leaves you in no doubt as to why.

From the very beginning, the performance elicits gasps from the audience as the curtain is raised on all 10 members of the troupe lying flat on the stage, surrounded by neatly arranged props. They gradually come to life, getting to their feet and chatting to each other as they change clothes and reorganise materials.

It’s all very informal, almost suggestive of rehearsal, and it immediately draws the audience into the shared experience.

As the show continues, the performers stretch the boundaries of their genre. Is it theatre? Is it dance? Is it circus?

Photo: Shane Reid

Photo: Shane Reid

Under Darcy Grant’s impeccable direction, the separate elements disappear, melding together in an extraordinary choreography of movement so elegant in conception, so perfect in execution, that it can only be described as pure art.

The acrobats walk across each other’s heads or stand three and four high on each other’s shoulders. They tumble, back-flip or plod along a race track made from blue light. With metal buckets on their heads, they blunder around like blind Ned Kellys yet somehow manage to form an impressive human pyramid.

Some traditional circus elements are present (acrobatics, juggling, clowning, contortion) but this is circus as you’ve never seen it before, pushed to its conceptual and cerebral limits.

No sequins or glitter, no extravagant costumes or set. The show relies on bold interplay between physical skill and thematic interrogation to unravel the complexities of human relationships and explore different notions of strength.

2017-Adelaide-Festival-Gravity-and-Other-Myths-Backbone-067-credit-Shane-Reid

Photo: Shane Reid

The sensitive soundtrack, composed and performed by Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory, and the utterly remarkable lighting design, by Helpmann award-winner Geoff Cobham, beautifully enhance the physical narrative. They also help to induce not just the oohs and aahs normally associated with circus performance, but a deep emotional awareness of human possibilities and the combined strength that comes from working together.

With Backbone, Gravity and Other Myths has produced something so intensely beautiful it makes you proud to be human. And in our current global climate, that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Backbone is showing at the Dunstan Playhouse until March 19.

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