Back­bone artists form a cir­cus fam­ily

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - Photo by Car­ni­val Cin­ema.

Cby Tony Mon­tague

ir­cus fam­i­lies are a very old tra­di­tion. A cen­tury ago it meant Mum, Dad, and all the kids, maybe a cousin or two, an aunt or an un­cle, per­form­ing an act to­gether. But for Grav­ity & Other Myths, fam­ily has a dif­fer­ent sense. Mem­bers of the Aus­tralian ac­ro­batic en­sem­ble have been mak­ing cir­cus to­gether since they were eight or nine years old, and that’s led to a rare de­gree of bond­ing, rooted in the deep­est level of mu­tual trust.

“We trained at the Cirkidz school in Ade­laide and started GOM 10 years ago, when most of us were teenagers,” says Jascha Boyce, reached on tour in Mont­pel­lier, France. “A lot of the core en­sem­ble is still in the show. The way the com­pany has de­vel­oped, it’s very much like we’re one big fam­ily. So we re­ally know each other and how each body moves, which means we’re able to per­form at an in­cred­i­bly high level. We do group ac­ro­bat­ics—and I’m one of the fly­ers. I do a bit of bas­ing as well, when I’m on the bot­tom and throw­ing the other girls, but mostly I’m stand­ing on two peo­ple, walk­ing on peo­ple’s heads or get­ting thrown in the air.”

Aus­tralia has gained a worldwide rep­u­ta­tion for the qual­ity of its youth and com­mu­nity cir­cuses. Grav­ity & Other Myths formed to present the show Freefall at the Ade­laide Fringe Fes­ti­val, and the crew—as the mem­bers style them­selves—used its cre­ation to tour Down Un­der and learn the ropes of their in­dus­try. Its sec­ond show, A Sim­ple Space, proved a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional suc­cess, and came to Van­cou­ver three years ago. Grav­ity & Other Myths re­turns with Back­bone, a larger and more am­bi­tious work that fea­tures 10 ac­ro­bats and two mu­si­cians who are on-stage through­out.

“Back­bone has been de­vel­oped over quite a long pe­riod of time,” Boyce says. “We set our­selves some tasks—to see where our in­ter­ests lay. An ex­am­ple of that you can see in the show stems from one of the very first de­vel­op­ments—one of the skills I do, which is to stand on one of the basers’ heads. We can hold it for a long time and so we were ex­per­i­ment­ing with all the dif­fer­ent things we could do to the per­son un­der­neath. The rest of the team come in and dis­tract the base while I con­tinue stand­ing.”

The scene high­lights a key fea­ture of Grav­ity & Other Myths’ work—its hu­mour. There’s no clown in this cir­cus; the role is shared at dif­fer­ent times by the en­tire crew. “So much of our pro­duc­tions, as a com­pany and as a group, is based in hu­mour. We don’t take our­selves too se­ri­ously, al­though Back­bone does have a bit more depth emo­tion­ally than A Sim­ple Space. We’re ex­plor­ing some deeper themes—darker themes in some ways.”

One of the con­cepts be­hind the new work comes from yoga—tapa, ac­cord­ing to Boyce the abil­ity to en­dure. “Back­bone is all based around strength in all its dif­fer­ent forms: phys­i­cal strength, emo­tional strength, col­lec­tive strength, and in­di­vid­ual strength. That idea comes from con­ver­sa­tions we had ini­tially about what we were in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing in re­la­tion to our lives as cir­cus per­form­ers as well as our per­sonal lives.”

Grav­ity & Other Myths rep­re­sents cir­cus in the raw, a ma­jor trend in the art form that for­goes such tra­di­tional trap­pings as fan­tas­ti­cal cos­tumes, über-el­e­gance, and demigod aura to present some­thing much more hu­man and per­sonal—com­plete with grunts, sweat, and odd togs. “It’s very ap­par­ent in all three of our shows, and it’s al­ways been the way that we were drawn to cre­ate,” Boyce says. “The fo­cus is hon­esty—be­ing very real and hon­est on-stage. We wanted to show what it takes to do what we do in a very vis­ceral and real way. We of­ten find that can cre­ate a much stronger bond with our au­di­ence, if we show them that we’re not mys­ti­cal crea­tures that can do amaz­ing tricks, but we’re just like them. We’ve just spent a long time train­ing to be very good at what we do, but we’re peo­ple who have the same feel­ings and fears.

“All of our cos­tumes we’ve bought in sec­ond­hand shops, so they’ve all been pre-used and preloved,” she adds. “They’re def­i­nitely not the clothes we would choose to wear. They’re a bit ill-fit­ting, wacky, and strange. We like the idea that each ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing has its own his­tory and sto­ries. The rea­son we change clothes through­out the piece is so we can ap­pear not just as one in­di­vid­ual per­son but as any­body. So you could imag­ine that we could be your brother, your sis­ter, your­self, your mum, your dad, in­stead of be­ing rec­og­nized as in­di­vid­u­als. So that’s very much about the en­sem­ble rather than the in­di­vid­ual.”

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