Australian circus troupe Gravity and Other Myths stage the impossible in their latest work, Backbone, a high-octane spree of physical virtuosity. Josephine Balfour-Oatts reviews:

“Jesus Christ”, breathes an audience member to the left. One hand covers his mouth, the other is poised at his brow. Together, the audience teeter on the edges of their seats, barely breathing as they watch the impossible unfold. It is clear that the Australian circus troupe, Gravity and Other Myths, are not bound by mere rudimentary law. In Backbone, they seek to drive the physical body to its absolute limit and exercise a mental agility to match.

Backbone Pleasance Dome

The piece is at once unnatural and profoundly human, a delicate balance achieved through the fierce camaraderie and competitive spirit of the company. Bare feet ghost in the gloom as they  begin, treading the divide between artifice and reality with great effect. The score, played live by musicians Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory, maximises the intensity of the action throughout. Carefully composed drum beats combine with a sense of vertigo, as with remarkable ease the performers scale each others’ bodies to reach preposterous altitudes.

Backbone Pleasance Dome

When a blizzard of what looks like coffee granules encourages an atmosphere of organised chaos, the Backbone stage becomes a playground. The energy of the troupe is infectious, their enjoyment made obvious by the bubbles of laughter that escape during transitions. They tease the spectators during a mild but powerful moment of interactivity.

The audience waits for the tearing of ligaments and shattering of bones, a freak accident that incredibly never arrives – they bend instead of breaking. Not a whisper can be heard as they leave and return to the ground, so controlled is the execution.

Backbone Pleasance Dome
Image courtesy of Darcy Grant

Gravity and Other Myths serve up a smorgasbord of stunts, with no one moment the same as the next. During the silences preceding a particularly ambitious trick, the apprehension is tangible. Roars of delight sound upon each safe landing, with cries of disbelief lost amid a flurry of expletives. And at no point does the Backbone choreography become laboured. Even when, towards the end, muscles are visibly shaking and sweat is unashamedly flowing, it only confirms the enormity of the marathon that has come to pass.

Ultimately, Backbone is a triumph. A celebration of one race: the human race.

★★★★★

Backbone is now playing at Underbelly Bristo Square until 26 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.