Gravity & Other Myths is all about pushing physical limits. Featuring simple yet exhilarating choreography, the Australian acrobatic ensemble has appeared in numerous arts festivals, including Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Adelaide Festival. Now its third production, "A Simple Space," is making its American premiere at Spoleto Festival USA.
The show is set in an intimate space, with the audience practically within range of the acrobats' swinging limbs. To a steady percussion beat, Gravity & Other Myths defies gravity with charisma and few props. Bodies are used as jump ropes; an onstage contest results in landing multiple backflips in a row; and one artist solves a Rubik's Cube while balancing on his head.
These feats can have consequences on the human body, and a few of the artists in Gravity & Other Myths have had serious injuries over the years. But through rigorous training, consistent rehabilitation and injury management, performances are rarely hindered.
"Each of the performers within the company trains slightly differently, as we all have varied skills," said Jascha Boyce, a flyer in the ensemble. "The flyers train handstands and core conditioning a lot, while the bases usually train a combination of upper body and length strength."
"Bases" are acrobats who support and help balance the flyers during routines.
Boyce said the daily training routine usually starts with skipping for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by at least 30 minutes of stretches. This is followed by 15 minutes of conditioning, which includes sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, chin-ups, handstands and squats.
After these warm-up routines, the members go on to train solo skills, and then partner and group skills. The time they spend doing each of these varies depending on the ones required for any upcoming performances. The session wraps up with a 15-minute stretch and cool-down. All told, the entire routine takes about 3-5 hours.
The bond between the members makes the elements of danger or fear in its performances less apparent.
Formed in 2009, Gravity & Other Myths started out with five current members who began training together more than 10 years ago at Cirkidz, a youth circus school based in South Australia. The ensemble now has eight performers, including a percussionist.
"One of the unique things about working with GOM is that we are all very close friends on and off the stage," said Boyce, referring to the troupe's nickname. "The familiarity we share is what makes us comfortable enough with one another to develop the extreme level of trust required within our art form."
Given the constant intense training, acrobats and performing artists are known to end their careers in their late 20s to early 30s.
Chiropractic doctor Rafael Llop, of Integrative Wellness in Charleston, specializes in all-around wellness with an emphasis on sports and fitness. He is also a personal trainer and holistic health professional.
"Every precise movement pattern, if performed incorrectly, could lead to overactive muscles, spinal misalignment and injuries," Llop said. "The most common injuries that we see are low back pain, headaches, plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and shoulder discomfort."
Kirk Sprinkles is a retired Broadway performer and current officer at Career Transition for Dancers, a nonprofit organization with offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that provides dancers with resources for alternative career possibilities.
Sprinkles says performing artists have to think about other career paths they can take, either during or after their dance career.
"I have known way too many people that unfortunately have come to the end of their dance career, either as planned or due to injury, much earlier than they thought," Sprinkles said, "and they are at a complete loss at what to do."
Though none of the Gravity & Other Myths artists plan to retire any time soon, they have future plans to engage with emerging young performers and help them achieve their goals.
"We will continue to perform and train acrobatics for as long as our bodies can still handle it," Boyce said.
Olivia Yang is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.