The Australian acrobatics ensemble Gravity & Other Myths aren’t in the business of spinning yarns, or rounding off stories; their mythology lies in the stripped down wonder of incredible movements.
Their show, reaching Edinburgh fresh from success in Adelaide, has the confidence to reject the camp glitter of the travelling circus, the sequinned sheen, bright lights, razzle-dazzle meant to make the effortful look as easy as magic. Instead, everything about the performance is designed to speak of effort, not enchantment. The performers dress neutrally, all beige and khaki, inhabiting a simple space lit only by floor mounted lamps, which they re-angle by hand for each act. Sweat drips off their foreheads, and their exhausted panting becomes a kind of performance in itself; for particularly strenuous acts, the music is strategically silenced, and replaced by the harsh rhythm of raggedly-drawn breaths.
The piece is structured by a series of contests, all much more family-friendly than the strip-skipping opening. The performers compete to turn the most backflips, do the longest handstand, pressing the audience to invest in their battles for physical supremacy – the potential for machismo is softened by the atmosphere of fun, and randomness. This feels like a show where anything could happen.
Jascha Boyce, the only women in the group, gets to inhabit a kind of aerial world of close-cropped heads as stepping stones, or propelled and swung like an elastic band on a catapult. The ensemble’s movements are rough and tumbling, making it feel genuinely dangerous when she lets herself fall, unsoftened by the neat poise and perma-smiles of TV gymnastics. There’s a kind of invigorating playground energy, which makes it feel like they’ve imagined a shape, then made it on the spot, high-fiving or shouting YES! when they pull it off. Balanced in triangular sculptures on a single, tottering point, they become imaginary creatures, injecting fantasy into their space of determined reality.
This is a hard-working kind of magic. It could be tempting to hunt out a sort of grim recessionary moral on behalf of the enraptured children in the audience, finding a visual demonstration of the necessary imbalance in inspiration:perspiration ratios. But wrong, too. Instead of story, character and glitter, there’s a kind of triumphant spontaneity – it makes you want to try and do a handstand, to slide down the Gilded Balloon banisters or seize that next flyer with your toes, not your fingers.