In 2017, Gravity & Other Myths (GOM) made the artistic leap from the Adelaide Fringe to the Adelaide Festival. Their show Backbone was selected by the Festival’s then new directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy to be part of their first Adelaide Festival program. This meant the troupe had to take it up a notch – in terms of the spectacle, the physical feats and the narrative – to show new circus in a theatre, rather than a tent, as part of the more prestigious Adelaide Festival. To help, the Adelaide acrobatic clique responsible for Fringe hits such as Freefall and A Simple Space brought in an outside director, former acrobat Darcy Grant, to oversee the group’s jump to the arts’ big stage.
It worked. Backbone was a smash. Rave reviews for their Adelaide Festival season saw GOM (formed by former Cirkidz acrobats locally in 2009) follow Adelaide with seasons at the Melbourne and Sydney Festivals before travelling to the northern hemisphere. Backbone was nominated for three Helpmann Awards and won Outstanding Achievement at the 2018 Australian Dance Awards.
Two years later and Grant, formerly of Circa, is back to direct the group’s upcoming Festival show, Out of Chaos…, described in the program notes as a “spectacular exploration of circus that grapples with the relationship between order and chaos in our lives”. The notes also tell the audience to “prepare for physicality unprecedented in new circus” through “hyper-proximity” for an “even stronger connection to the audience than ever before”.
For Grant, the show will merge the best of GOM’s two worlds: the raw and intimate circus of their early days with the production values and spectacle of Backbone.
“As acrobats, we take it for granted how great it is to be really close to big acrobatics,” he says. “When you’re standing right underneath a tower that is three people high, it looks and feels very different to when you’re seeing it from a seat in the theatre. One of the challenges for GOM is to be known for its connection across that fourth wall, we want to take that [connection] further and take acrobatics back into the audiences’ laps, so to speak. There are a lot of hurdles to jump before we can tell you exactly what that looks like but we really want to show the audience the quivering muscle that’s holding up hundreds of kilos.”
Does this mean a more immersive experience for the audience?
“There will be a level of immersion,” Grant answers. “We’re certainly looking at that from a design perspective as well – how can the audience light the work? How can the audience add to the soundtrack of the work? – so, it feels like something that is a little more bespoke. It gives the audience a kind of role.”
GOM’s rise has mirrored the appreciation of new circus as an artform, as new circus has escaped the sideshows and tents to be found there are three things you need to have in your program: a Belgian dance company, an immersive theatre piece and an Australian circus act’, which I thought was pretty apt,” he laughs. “There are so many great Australian circus companies doing well at big festivals. But it’s an interesting one with Gravity…. There were certainly doubts I faced from presenters around the world when we were making Backbone: how do you elevate a fringe act to a festival stage? That really was the central provocation to the work. It’s something we need to think a lot about with this one [Out of Chaos…] but I think that we’ve managed to crack it, certainly things like hyper-proximity are ways you can do that. With a fringe act you already have hyper-proximity, but how do you make that happen in an 800- to 1000-seat theatre?”
Grant recently returned from three weeks of creative development in France for Out of Chaos… with the entire acrobatic team. This was to “unite the team” because the work is so physical that the more time they spend together, “physically, the more range we have and the more ability [we have] to make amazing things happen”.
For Out of Chaos… many of the original acrobats, who were there at the formation of GOM in 2009, will move off-stage for producer roles.
“They’re starting to steer the ship a little more in terms of its creative development,” Grant says.
Before premiering at Adelaide Festival in late February, the entire Out of Chaos… team will gather in Adelaide for two months of rehearsals as, aside from the narrative and physical challenges, Grant needs to work the composer and sound designer Ekrem Eli Phoenix into the show.
“That’s one of the huge challenges: how do we stage a GOM work with a live singer on stage? We’ve worked with violinists and percussionists before, but to get someone to move around the space and use their voice is one of our biggest challenges.”
Finally, are GOM at a point where they can have multiple shows running simultaneously around the world?
“That’s the eternal question of growth when you get to this level,” Grant says. “Total credit to the guys and girls who run GOM, they take that question very seriously. For instance, just duplicating a cast of an old show is never an option. We don’t ever want to have a scenario where there is an A and a B squad. We think our point of difference is that before we grow, we want to consolidate and make sure that GOM’s known for having a really… it’s about the people on stage, the individuals, we want to keep that the focus.
“For instance, they do actually have quite a few new people in the cast touring their old show A Simple Space in France right now but they’re alongside a few of the originals. And that’s a really conscious choice; it’s not just rushed out the door with a new cast.
“We’re at a point where there are enough people that feel really close to the company. If they’re not from the original cast they’ve been with the company for five-plus years, so we do have this family that is growing. We cast with that in mind. We have the opportunity to hire guns for hire but we’d much prefer to hire performers who have come through Cirkidz because we feel connected to them personally. We’ve seen them grow up.”
Gravity & Other Myths
Out of Chaos…
Wednesday, February 27 to Wednesday, March 6
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