Fresh from critically acclaimed performances at both the Adelaide Fringe Festival and the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, Adelaide, Australia circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths bring Spoleto audiences their latest performance piece called A Simple Space. That title is no lie.
No fancy costumes. No elaborate light show. No stirring musical score. Seven performers. One percussionist. And one simple idea. Jascha Boyce, one of the troupe's founding members, put it this way: "For us, A Simple Space is really about showing people a little glimpse of the world of training. The failures as well as the successes. The sweat and the bruises." Given the sneak peeks of the show we've seen online, we have to conclude that Boyce is being modest.
While A Simple Space may be stripped down to essential elements, the performance is anything but simple. An example: Skipping rope? Kid's stuff. How about swapping out the rope and substituting in its place a living, breathing human? Now, you're talking.
Who comes up with this kind of thrilling madness? We caught up with Boyce to find out.
The troupe has its origins in Cirkidz, a youth circus school based in Adelaide. In 2009, after graduating together, the performers decided to continue working as an ensemble. From that basis in friendship, Gravity & Other Myths was born.
"The circus community in Adelaide is still quite small," says Boyce, "However, the majority of it circulates around Cirkidz, as it is not only one of the most equipped training spaces in South Australia but it is also a very supportive environment for artists. The Australian circus industry has expanded substantially over the past few years. Right now seems like the perfect time to be creating acrobatic and physical theater work in Australia."
Spoleto audiences have been treated to a number of physical theater/acrobatic performances in the last few years, but one thing that sets Gravity & Other Myths apart is their sense of humor. The physical demands they take on are no joke, but the troupe's light-hearted style left us wondering, Are they all just in this for the laughs?
"One of the most important things about creating and performing for us is having fun," she said. "If we begin to create something that we do not enjoy we will often find it difficult to pursue it. We are all very close friends both on stage and in day-to-day life, so humour and fun come quite naturally to us on stage. Our closeness as a group also means that fun and laughter are essential to ensure we stay positive and still like each other after spending so much time together."
And they do spend an enormous amount of time together. An average week may include five to seven performances. They allow themselves one day off. When they're not on stage, Boyce told us, "We often will spend some of our spare time training both for the show and also for skills, which are not yet in the show so we ensure that we are still challenging ourselves and keeping it fresh. We try to spend the rest of our time exploring each city we are visiting and connecting with the local community through workshops."
The simplicity the troupe embraces is more than a way to set themselves apart in a competitive field. Keeping things basic, leaving themselves no room to hide behind the typical mainstays of circus performance, often makes their work even more challenging. Why do they do it?
"We have always created work as honestly as possible. We like to be ourselves on stage encouraging real connections with our audiences. This style of performance does have its challenges," says Boyce "We do not have exciting costumes or lighting effects to hide behind — it is simply just us on stage doing what we love. When we make a mistake or fall out of a trick, everyone will probably notice it, but we try to embrace these 'failures' as much as our triumphs within the work, showing audiences that despite the skills we have, we are just normal people as well."
Often cited in the glowing reviews that seem to trail behind them wherever they go, is another element of the troupe's performance style. Strength, flexibility, and sheer inventiveness should be enough to satisfy even the most demanding circus aficionado, but Gravity & Other Myths seem to thrive on audience participation. Aren't there rules about this sort of thing?
"Within our style of performance, which we like to call 'New Circus', there aren't really any rules. Audience participation in an honest and natural way in acrobatic and physical theatre work is definitely encouraged and embraced within our community. The style of audience participation we use is very much lead by the audience, engaging them in a much more personal and visceral way."
By engaging in a "personal and visceral way" one assumes she's referring to the audience being encouraged to lob what appear to be softballs at the performers while they try to maintain one-handed handstands and a variety of daring, "don't-try-this-at-home" feats.
Lastly, we couldn't help but ask about the troupe's name and whether it implied unreported anomalies in the Australian gravitational field that might follow the troupe our way. Boyce did her reassuring best to talk us down.
"We sometimes like to think gravity is a myth but to be honest, without it most of our tricks would be impossible!" she said.
So it's a safe bet that if you find yourself popping out of your seat at the Emmet Robinson Theatre, it won't be due to a suspension of the earth's gravitational integrity. More likely, it will be to applaud these enormously talented folks. Consider A Simple Space a don't miss.