Gravity may not be as limiting as you think. While you always have to come down to earth after taking flight, there’s a lot you can do while still up in the air. And there’s no better example than Gravity & Other Myths thrilling production of Backbone. Featuring a cast of ridiculously in-shape and talented circus artists, this world-renowned show lifts you from your seat and whisks you into a whimsical world that challenges human strength and ability.
Gravity & Other Myths is a circus and physical theatre company from Australia – known not only for its dazzling displays of acrobatics, but also for its quirkiness and unique artistry. Backbone takes place on a bare stage, with the wings completely open so you can see the backstage area, as if to say – there are no “magic” tricks here, you can see everything.
At the start of the show, there’s a cast member dressed as a knight in armour, while the rest of the cast, including two musicians, like on their backs around him. The company starts to rise and begin a squabble of casual chatter. They then engage in an absurd scenario of undressing and throwing their pieces of clothing to other cast members to wear.
The fact that these are all incredibly ripped athletes makes this part easy on the eyes –and their delightful personalities and downright quirkiness makes this part all the more enjoyable. I’m convinced that some performers dressed into outfits for no reason at all, before changing into something else. After this bit of absurdity, with the two musicians now at their stations on stage left, the cast begins a round of exciting tumbling and partnering. And the fun only continues to build from there.
There are performers standing and walking across the heads of other cast members. They also stand on each other’s shoulders – sometimes four people high. And this is just the warm-up. As the show progresses, we see cast members leaping through the air and being caught. We also see all kinds of creative and impressive ways of balancing on other humans, while hitting different shapes. The cast also balance long sticks on their foreheads for a really long time - something that I’ve never seen done before. All of this action is complemented by some enjoyable slapstick comedy and the occasional touch of improv.
One particularly impressive section involves the cast wearing buckets over their heads, so they can’t see anything. Impressively, they from a human pyramid, and one female performer climbs to the top and balances on everyone. There’s also a cool section where the band plays swing music, and the performers literally swing each other around the stage, lifting and throwing each other around.
But this show isn’t just all fun and games. It’s a commentary on human strength, both physical and mental. Heavy stones are used as a metaphor throughout the show, with performers holding them up, and at one point, putting them into a sack attached to a pulley-like contraption; the sack of stones is lifted into the air by the weight of cast members on the other side of the pulley, allowing some cast members to perform under the sack of stones.
Among the highly talented troupe, Lachlan Harper really stands out for his incredible physical abilities and courage. At one point during the show, there was a trick that involved him leaping onto the top of high human pyramid. He didn’t quite nail it the first time (don’t worry, there were other cast members spotting him). So, he did it again and nailed it. I was really impressed by how gutsy he was.
At the end of the show, Harper does an endless amount of back tucks and nails the landings each time. At one point, he even switches to full-twisting back tucks just to kick things up a notch. What a powerhouse.
The entire troupe is a stunning showcase of human strength and agility, showing us how pre-conceived assumptions of physical limitations aren’t as limiting as what assumed. And the cast’s friendly personalities make the show relatable to audiences. Watch for some of the cast in the lobby after the performance, where they’ll gladly chat you up. Backbone is a fantastic balancing act of world-class acrobatics, quirky humour, artistic sophistication, and delightful showmanship.
The Cultch’s presentation of Gravity and Other Myth’s production of Backbone runs until November 4 at the Vancouver Playhouse. For more information, visit the Cultch’s website.