Backbone explores the theme of strength – physical, emotional, collective, individual – what it looks like, what it means, who has it, how it is measured, and so on. Aptly titled, the show tests the limits of both the literal and figurative backbones of its performers.
Through a series of spectacular stunts, accompanied by a hypnotic live soundscape, the acrobats illustrate the many different ways of being strong. Sometimes strength is lifting someone up; other times it is knocking them down. And other times yet, it is being emotionally resilient enough to wait out a given disturbance, grabbing the burden you must carry and holding it tight while being tossed around relentlessly, or continuing to dance despite a looming threat inching ever closer right above your head. In any case, strength means standing tall whether you are balanced on top of one, or two, or three (!!!) people, or, more likely, none. Sometimes our strength can move the world around us and bring people together; other times it takes the same amount of strength just to keep our own selves standing. Say our strength is measured by the weight of the burden we carry – what happens when we put it down?
It may seem ironic, even borderline insulting perhaps, to have the notion of strength explained to us by a team of artists who each are clearly stronger than all the spectators combined, but the performers manage to be surprisingly relatable, and even funny. They play games, they bicker, they punish themselves for being wrong, they compete for the spotlight… I would say they are no different from the rest of us, but then I remember that they can literally balance one another on sticks and throw each other around like it’s nothing so… (don’t mind me, I’m very jealous).
Backbone could have been just another platform for them to show off, but it isn’t, not at all.
The piece is thoughtful, unpretentious and inviting – unnerving at moments, humorous at others, and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. And it just happens to also be visually stunning and ridiculously impressive at absolutely all times.
Backbone is a wild ride that will burn lasting images into your mind and leave you with a deep longing to go back in time and take up gymnastics as a small child. It is a truly inspiring display of camaraderie and trust, a testament to the fact that there is strength in numbers, as well as a reminder (or more accurately, an exaggeration) of just how much one can carry and how tall one can stand. This festival couldn’t have asked for a greater opener.
Defying gravity in leaps and bounds, Gravity & Other Myths (GOM), in association with Brisbane Powerhouse, has showcased a stunning presentation that highlights the tremendous capabilities of the human form. The celebration piece, aptly named Backbone, explored the connectedness of humanity. In a breathtaking display by an all Australian acrobatic ensemble, the production combined athletic appeal with sheer power and outshone any expectations of the admiring audience.
Leaving no stone unturned (pun intended), the performers hit the ground running, sky rocketing to levels of disbelief within seconds of commencing the show.
The staging was simple – buckets, poles and an idle clothing rack were strategically placed on the floor. A do-it-yourself aesthetic that was raw and urban, especially when accompanied with the notorious brick wall of the Powerhouse Theatre. It was a privilege to be up close and personal in this intimate setting for a circus. When the group entered the space, they completely cleared what was set, in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, and casually started performing tricks. What amazed audience members most was the extraordinary abilities of those involved. Tricks were performed at all angles and in all spaces of the stage.
Backbone achieved the unimaginable and impossible. The GOM troupe varied their impressive stunts to the music of a two-piece band. They made towers three and four people tall and walked these easily across the stage. There were human pendulums, backflips, handstands and acrobats who literally catapulted themselves across the stage and at each other. One highlight (out of many) was when a performer was hoisted up into the air by her fellow cast-mates who were holding her on poles. The acrobat was left balancing backwards on a single pole, which sat in the mid-section of her back – it was utterly insane and something you’d expect to see in a magician’s show.
Director, Darcy Grant, has put together an astonishing and entertaining circus performance, with a cast of impeccable acrobats. The idea of strength was clearly at the forefront of the production’s meaning, with Grant testing each artist’s skills, both physically and mentally. The show ended with one final act of power – an old-fashioned strength test. Even after giving their best during the entire performance, it was thrilling to see what the acrobats still had left in their tanks.
The performers were completely united and delivered as an accomplished ensemble. They proved the adage of ‘all for one and one for all’. Just as the audience got used to one acrobat in a certain shirt, they all changed and swapped clothing with each other. As much as they were individual performers, they were a collective, one and the same – it was a creative and novel approach. The level of trust in each other and each person’s capabilities was something to be respected. Even when one catch was missed – and I stress the importance of one as they were very much on point the entire show – the camaraderie between them all was evident. Not to disappoint, they attempted the same trick again and nailed it perfectly. The ensemble was tight, ambitious and in tune with each other.
Backbone is Australia’s version of Cirque du Soleil. The performers have brought to life a modern and contemporary circus show that delivers the traditional wows, oohs and aahs from an ever-adoring audience. The 80 minute spectacle literally had it all with an engaging performance that moved away from your customary type of circus. The group demonstrates quite clearly that they are innovative, daring and a new type of physical theatre.
Although Backbone is showcasing in Brisbane for a very limited time, I don’t believe this is the last time we will see the multi-award winning group that is GOM. The troupe is based in Adelaide and is making its mark already in international waters. One can expect big things from this evolving company and word of mouth on how talented the individuals are is going to spread like wildfire. The only way to show your appreciation to this production is to let your backbone speak with a standing ovation.
What a great show! It has the excitement of circus at its best combined with the grace and choreographic line of dance, and the magical undercurrents of good theatre.
Above all, it has honesty in performance. There are no fancy costumes – just plain clothes that get changed often from an onstage rack – and the stage is bare except for the incisive intervention of Geoff Cobham’s powerful lighting designs.
Essentially, Backbone is three women and seven men and the extraordinary things they can do with their bodies. Not just feats of strength, balance, timing and daring but sequences that use these abilities in poetically expressive and dazzlingly athletic ways.
A two-man band with a clutch of instruments is a key part of the theatricality, tightening the tension and setting the moods in a variety of musical styles. So different from a recorded soundtrack and an indicator of the close communication that shapes the action and character of the group, Gravity & Other Myths, which was formed in Adelaide in 2009.
It has since won circus and dance awards for work that it creates and directs as an ensemble. It is easy to see why.
There are basic sequences like climbing on shoulders and heads to form human towers – but Backbone offers variations that link and move and change in mid-air. Time and again, one action phrase will lead to another, as it does in dance and physical theatre, often in a refreshingly unpredictable direction.
The performers balance with, and on, tall poles; shift focus with silver buckets on their heads, echoing Ned Kelly’s armour; toss each other heart-stoppingly into waiting arms. And so much more: you have to see some of it to believe it. Did they really do that? Yes!
This world premiere performance of Backbone is the latest offering from Adelaide based Gravity and Other Myths, a multi-award winning and well-respected Australian acrobatics ensemble that originally grew out of Cirkidz. The company creates engaging works of acrobatic art for touring, festivals, and corporate clients. Formed in 2009 in Adelaide, South Australia, the ensemble creates and directs their own work with an emphasis on an honest approach to performance, moving away from traditional circus and theatre models towards a fusion of acrobatic physical theatre. The company continues to grow and evolve, pushing their physical and creative boundaries, striving for unique performance opportunities and meaningful community engagement.
This amazing, no-frills, DIY circus company’s brand new work, Backbone, literally tosses around the perception of what strength is, where it comes from, and how it is measured. This frenetic celebration of human interconnectedness will test the limits of strength: physical, emotional, individual, and collective.
The ten-strong cast and two musicians are mesmerising. The show opens to much scattered activity as we are let in behind the scenes, so to speak, as the cast sets the stage. Things then begin to happen in quite a subtle way but, in no time at all, the audience were exposed to the skills of this talented troupe and, within minutes, it became apparent that this would be no ordinary show.
The incredible skill of this ensemble is exceptional. Their phenomenal strength and agility really has to be seen to be believed. Their youthful energy just shines through each individual performance and as a group, you can tell that they know each other very well as they melded into each other beautifully and the level of trust is indomitably high as it is spellbinding to watch.
This show is seamlessly choreographed and the original score by composers/musicians, Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory, is the perfect backdrop to these wonderful performers as they take us through their sequences with versatility and honed concentration. They are a well-oiled machine and there were moments where I felt spoilt for choice of where to look on the stage. Each individual is of such a high calibre that, at times, it appeared they were something other than human as they literally flew around the stage and, for a time, were trapeze artists, minus the trapeze. Even when they are standing still they are emanating pure energy and excellence.
All of this, plus a good dose of humour, wonderful lighting techniques, and just the right amount of built up tension, makes this unique show a must see.
Director, Darcy Grant, intended for Backbone to be a show that anyone, from any place, at any age, can access, an unpretentious, physically virtuosic, meaningful piece of circus. This was definitely achieved and appealed to the audience, who ranged in age from young children to the elderly.
The experience of this show lingers with you long after you leave the theatre and I can see how Gravity and Other Myths are in demand over in Europe and America because, simply put, this production of Backbone is world class.
Backbone will take you through a range of emotions, all without saying a word. The powerful acrobatics rolls through short narratives using the human body to create meaning.
The intimate size and staggered seating of the Dunstan Playhouse is the perfect setting for an immersive show like Backbone. Just remember to enter via the River Torrens pathway as this is the only entry point.
Adelaide group, Gravity & Other Myths, offer a complex performance that wouldn’t be out of place on the world stage. The storyline here centres on the human backbone and strength therein, and is communicated through acrobatics, but feels more like artistic dance. Each movement flows through to the next and the profoundness of these physical feats are subdued by a smooth performance.
The themes are beautiful, complex and subtle and allow the viewer to interpret them with personal touches. Broadly speaking, most centre on cause and effect, and demonstrate action and reaction through physical movement.
One profound scene sees a girl’s body manipulated through a complicated course, directed by the bodies of her peers. For the entire scene, her eyes never break contact with the audience and her face remains blank. She’s spun around, turned upside down, picked up, put down, and eventually ends up at the top of a two-man high A-frame, in which she’s held, dangling only by her head.
Take a moment to break eyes with the stage and you’ll see a two piece music duo who time every beat and tune without a hitch. Even if art and meaning isn’t your thing, the marvel of physical feats will be more than enough to satisfy.