Review: Backbone


To have backbone implies having steel in your bits metaphorically, and this young South Australian-based circus ensemble, Gravity and Other Myths, has it in spades. This show doesn’t just push the boundary of what’s physically possible, it smashes it.
Even for peeps who see a shedload of circus, Backbone was awesome in the true sense of the word: it’s been a long time since we’ve been prompted, repeatedly, to whisper, “faaaarrrrk”. There was kid-like glee to be had in watching this show, that is, when not clutching a neighbour in nervous anticipation of what was about to happen next. It served as a clever reminder that circus isn’t just entertaining fluff: people literally put their bodies on the line and, sometimes, what they do is downright dangerous.
Thereafter, most of the action centred around contortion, acrobatics, balance and solid teamwork. Everything they did look relaxed and effortless – despite defying gravity and sometimes logic – and pushed the envelope just that bit further. For instance, while it’s customary (and impressive enough) for a circus troupe to balance three people standing on each others’ shoulders, these cats would go four up. At another point, the company put the buckets on their heads and in absence of sight, used sound and touch to build a giant pyramid of the performers, bar one who was stuck static in a handstand on the buckets, unwavering for minutes on end.
Then there was the bit drawing more on sideshow than circus, where the drummer and violinist providing the live accompaniment paused to stand at opposite sides of the stage, with a giant elastic band wrapped around their waists and drawn tight between them. The ensemble played an incomprehensible but super funny game of “it”, and whoever drew the short straw stood back while the rest of the performers stretched out the elastic, somersaulted over it and let it whistle through the air before it thwacked back on “its” bare torso.
Finally, the ensemble and the drummer made their way to the front of the stage, picking up the boulders and holding them at arm's length for an endurance feat. Eventually, arms wobbled and collapsed, and the rocks dropped.
Special note goes to the live tunes. The score became a key part of the show in its own right without being overwhelming or distracting: it mimicked the tension, highlighted the slapstick and crescendoed with high-stakes antics. It was a beautiful and ambient listen and we’d buy it in a blink as a soundtrack.
The counterpoint to the knack Gravity and Other Myths had of making everything look like a piece of cake was in the rare moment someone wobbled or skidded in whatever the hell was on the floor. It didn’t detract from the action though, rather just reminding us that this was real and risky.