This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical languages around circus arts.
Udderbelly, George Sq Gardens, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 5th August 2016
Gravity & Other Myths‘ A Simple Space is just that – a small grey square, framed by an audience who are up close and friendly. The space is built, dismantled and reconstructed by an architecture of people who pile, climb and weave their bodies into towering structures. The space and the narrative are in constant collapse and renovation as each section takes a trick and explores how it can be made into a game or competition – and how many boundaries can be stretched along the way. Once the game is exhausted and the bodies dismounted, the group reconvene at the back of the stage, giggling or joking to introduce the next task. Jacob Randell, Lachlan Binns, Martin Schreiber, Jascha Boyce, Joanne Curry, Simon McClure and Lachlan Harper bound about with backwards somersaults, leg ups onto shoulders and three, four and more-person strong acrobalance compositions. Elliot Zoerner provides live percussion and sound for the piece and is very much part of the antics of the performance.
Starting with the iconic and recognizable ‘catch’ game, each member shouts the word before they fall backwards in hope that their fellow performers will endeavor to save them, and sometimes they don’t! This prepares the audience for the format of the show, a series of competitions and games that demand copious amounts of trust, daring, tenacity and strength to overcome. By projecting the tasks in the form of competitions, viewers witness the maximum capabilities of human physicality as performers fall or leap, win or lose, give up and surprise. This heightens a sense of ownership for both performers and viewers who are supporting, cheering, gasping and laughing at each individual response to the game. Thuds, vibrations, calls and falls, sparkling eyes and genuine smiles draw viewers into games as if all is at stake. In discussion with Boyce, Harper and McClure, it is revealed that the choreographic process is task based, and it is left intentionally ambiguous to the audience which outcomes have since been set and which remain an immediate event. This sophistication in developing work beyond the process whilst maintaining its immediacy show after show sets A Simple Space apart from many at the Edinburgh Fringe Circus Hub.
A game begins by standing on the stomach of another person laid on the floor, then progresses in height and breadth: walking on hands, jumping across the stage from chest to tummy like a frog to his lily pad. As the horizontal performers roll further and further away, Harper catapults himself across to them. When the game is over, a new opportunity is found as he darts and leaps from bodies that appear as bases at varying heights only to scatter and reassemble, creating a climbing, undulating, complex pathway within the simple space. Each extension of the task creates additional highlights that surprise without over playing the idea or boring the viewer.
Strip skipping, somersaulting in turn along a diagonal line, a swinging version of musical bumps and Binns solving a Rubik’s cube while balanced on his head, legs spread-eagled in second position, form a running theme of lighthearted but highly technical games. Curry creates a poignant scene amid the array of frantic leaps, three-highs, freezes and handstands. She tiptoes, floats and sails over a human ocean, supported by waves of hands as she orbits two hand balancing canes.
The live music and percussion by Zoerner allows movements and balances to follow their natural momentum rather than be dictated to by a beat. He also takes his own opportunity to compete, this time with audience members, by inviting us in a clapping game of question and answer that we are doomed to fail. He stamps, clicks, claps and slaps his body in a score of accents and double time using his skin to create what sounds like a rhythm tap score.
The moments in between games of recapping, and introducing the next task, provide a break to the intensity of the piece. The reasoning behind the movement is firmly established, however, on occasion, mountainous tableaux and balances that take longer to form destruct the energy and sense of play.
The most powerful feature of this work, that sets it high above others, is the relationship between the performers. A tenderness balanced with great strength, and a competitive, playful sense of humour that exposes both personality and charisma. It is through returning flirtatious eye contact and genuine smiles that the group engages viewers in every breath, step and flying leap. The relationship infuses this acrobatic show with delight and satisfaction for all those inside the giant purple cow.
Sat in the front row, my chair shakes as giants made out of three, four and more people tumble from great heights, about to crush me. I can’t help but fall in love with the strapping lad whose sparkling eyes linger after he’s shot through the air or caught a flying girl, and I delight in sharing his buzz and passion for those fleeting moments.
The parting, and most enduring, image that A Simple Space leaves is one that I will leave with you. After eagerly handing out balls to viewers, who throw them under instruction back at the stone circle of handstands, a shared experience is created. The heavens open with a monsoon of balls over all and, one by one, these upside down statues eventually tumble, reverting to upright humans bruised by their multicoloured bullets in a juxtaposition of brutality and beauty. The effect created with the abundance of this one simple object encompasses what Gravity & Other Myths establish throughout: competition, audience engagement and awe. And they do it with precision, charm and charisma.