Australian physical theater company Gravity & Other Myths chose the human spine for its theme this year at Spoleto Festival USA.
In “Backbone,” 10 performers take the stage to explore the limits and capacities of the vertebral column, using it to support wooden dowel rods, metal buckets, rocks and one another.
The rhythm of the performance ebbs and flows as the show progresses, moving from rapid-fire acrobatic feats to slow-motion Rube Goldberg-like human assemblages, all done to live original music by Shenton Gregory and Elliot Zoerner.
Beams of blue and purple cut through the smoke-filled performance space, highlighting the performers’ bodies as they jumped or tumbled through the shafts of light.
While many of the showier moves garnered swells of applause during the Saturday evening performance, the show was most impactful in slower moments when the acrobats put their backbones through stress tests. More than once, one of them stood on another’s head without additional support. Later in the show, an acrobat hung in the air while her fellow artists held only her head.
The show included moments of humor, including a twist on the classic team building exercise, when members of the troupe stand in a line and attempt to count to 10. When two of the acrobats say a number simultaneously, they are punished with a slap in the stomach from a rope let go by the other performers.
But comedy is only a small part of the performance that features constant acrobatic motion. The performers hurl themselves and one another around the stage, occasionally landing a flying kick on someone’s chest or holding out a hand only to retract it, sending the other performer into a tumble.
While the acrobatic building blocks of this type of physical theater are more or less standard fare, by slowing down certain feats to emphasize the spine’s strength, Gravity & Other Myths mounts an inventive and impressive spectacle.
Reviewer Isaac Napell is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.