The Australian group Gravity and Other Myths built up their stellar reputation with their spectacular works: they’ve performed A Simple Space internationally more than 500 times, attracting amazing reviews and bagging the 2015 Australian Dance Award for Best Physical Theatre. Gracing London’s Southbank Centre with their unmissable new show, Backbone, the troupe celebrates the human strength that can lead to redefining the boundaries of impossibility.
It’s impossible to define Backbone with a singular craft that could encapsulate the richness of the experience it provides. A delightful combination of acrobatics, physical theatre and contemporary dance with a dash of martial arts, it celebrates the strength and flexibility of the human form, proving that they aren’t mutually exclusive. The title of the show reveals many meanings as we watch the performers redefine what’s possible; there’s the spine of discipline, focus and trust in each other they reveal, and the flexibility of chaos timed to the second and arranged artfully to a mystic ritual they’re a part of. The diligence interweaves with lightness and grace, the careful planning slaps us with majestic surprises; as the audience, we submerge into the distinct causal flow of the act.
The troupe incorporate various objects into their routine – be it long poles, rocks, buckets, or even a knight’s armour – to push themselves even further. Challenging the limits of what we think possible, the acrobats climb up, tiptoe, twirl and fly in the air, throwing us back into our seats time and time again. When the performers climb each other’s shoulders and heads for the first time, forming a massive human pyramid that reaches the lights over the stage, it’s difficult not to hold your breath with anticipation. By the time they create a human puppet supported by a handful of poles well above their heads to gradually take them away until the performer appears to balance on top of a singular bar, you purely question your senses. They entice us with danger and trump over it with their physical skill, creating a spectacle that crosses over the boundaries of disciplines.
So many things happen on stage that it’s difficult to fix your eyes just on one thing longer than for a few seconds without worrying that you could miss a crucial moment. But the phenomenal laser effects lead us by the hand, highlighting what image we should be paying attention to. The shapes cut through the air, fill the stage with colour and amplify the energetic feerie we’re observing. More geometrical patterns are formed with the sand scattered as a part of a mystical routine: these lines might guide the performers and mark the roads from one stunt to the other, but they connect the dots for the viewer, too, guiding our eyes as the group soars into the routine.
The performance’s live score continuously ramps up the tension and follows the comedic stints beat by beat. The electric energy of the performers matched by the music creates a fully immersive experience; the musicians switch between the rhythms and sound effects effortlessly, magnifying the emotions and stirring up the current of the performance even further.
And it’s not just the curiosity and notorious rule-breaking that keeps us engaged. It’s a sheer pleasure to watch the cast have so much fun on stage: they’re dedicated to the performance that’s impeccable in timing and execution, but maintain a phenomenal chemistry between each other. Their enjoyment and enthusiasm are infectious: the audience gradually joined in to cheer the group on, erupting in applause and rewarding them in a standing ovation.
There’s much more to the show than the glamour of the circus, as the group defies the labels as much as they defy gravity. And that’s why Backbone feels so modern and immersive, a true crossover between disciplines that turns our expectations inside out. As the show comes to an end and the acrobats leave the stage, the feeling of deep satisfaction grows: they’ve looked at a breath-taking physical feat that’s also filled with meaning and open to individual interpretations.
Backbone opened at Southbank Centre on the 14th of August 2018. You can book tickets for three more performances (until the 19th of August 2018) on the Southbank Centre website. Ticket prices: £15-30, concessions available.