Backbone artists form a circus family
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.”