Gravity & Other Myths doesn’t hide the grit and the grind of its intense physical feats

By Christina Campodonico 

Photo by Rob Maccoll

Hear the word “circus” and the elegant contortionists of Cirque du Soleil or regal elephants of Barnum & Bailey may come to mind.

But Gravity & Other Myths, performing the L.A. area premiere of its evening-length show “Backbone” at The Broad Stage this weekend, isn’t your typical circus troupe.

Born out of Adelaide, Australia, this contemporary circus ensemble specializes in stripped-down displays of acrobatic artistry and feats that indeed appear to defy gravity.

In a Gravity & Other Myths show, you won’t see waif-like aerialists dangle from hoops or gracefully contort into mind-boggling shapes with a coy smile (though plenty of bending does happen). Instead, muscular men stand on each other’s shoulders, creating towering human pillars that look like they almost reach into the stage’s rafters; and sinewy women soar through the air like spinning torpedoes or flying starfish. They come together to do the seemingly impossible — like balance a single acrobat atop a sea of poles, or miraculously make a human pyramid even as metal buckets cover their eyes or beads of gravel and sweat pour down their faces.

It’s the kind of bold and brawny style that’s come to distinguish Australian circus, observes “Backbone” director and Gravity & Other Myths creative lead Darcy Grant.

“… The French-Canadian circus feels a bit like modern ballet in the ’80s,” he says. “And I mean that in a really positive way. It’s kind of got this sexiness and poetry and … beauty that is its primary desire. Whereas I think Australian [circus] is probably more about the grit and the grind and, in some ways, maybe the struggle.”

Of Gravity& Other Myths in particular, he says: “We like to grind. We like to just push through all of the barriers, and do it as hard as we can.

“We find that if you bury the individual physically in costume and makeup, then they start to not really look like people anymore and the difficulties stop seeming as difficult. … If you’re up close and you can see the sweat and the veins and the twitching muscles of the effort, you actually have a lot more empathy and understanding of the difficulty.”

For “Backbone,” the ensemble hasn’t held back on revealing the physical effort that goes into their abstract acrobatic study of strength’s many forms, which includes many demonstrations of brute strength (handstands, tussles) as well as references to mining, farming and other forms of hard labor. But the biggest showcase of strength in the show is probably the “intense personal connection” and teamwork of the ensemble.

“You know the kind of cheesy analogy that a backbone is made up of many vertebrae, and if they’re all aligned and working well together, then they’re incredibly strong and dexterous and supple? And if they’re not working well together, then you can barely move?” asks Grant. “In ‘Backbone’ the main kind of story attached … is that being connected at such a deep level makes you stronger as a group and makes you able to achieve incredible things.”

Ultimately, Grant hopes that this raw and visceral display of human power will not only wow audiences but also ground them in their own physicality.

“The power of live theater and dance is that there’s the relatability of what’s going on, on stage, and you can feel it in your own body. You actually can go, ‘Oh, I have a body too.’ … And that, that I think is the power.”

Gravity & Other Myths performs “Backbone” at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 25) and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 26) at The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $59 to $89 at (310) 434-3200 or thebroadstage.org. 

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