Originally posted to broadwaybaby.com
Seeing circus never gets old – there’s always something magical about watching human beings doing things you can barely imagine with their bodies. But after a while, it starts being rare to see something done you’ve never seen before. If it’s that novelty you’re seeking, Backbone is the circus for you.
The eleven-strong Australian troupe are clearly having fun – it’s just that their definition of fun isn’t one you see all that often, even among circus folk. As the funny DIY aesthetic of swapping costumes and setting a frankly bizarre array of props around the stage falls away, they move into a traditional acrobatics act. Or rather, four traditional acrobatics acts at once. If you’re watching the someone scale two of their castmates like a tree, you’re missing two people doing backflips while somehow intertwined, and if you’re watching the backflip-ers, you’re not watching a woman being swung around in the air as if she’s weightless, and if you’re watching her, you’re not watching the guy who’s been standing on his head for the last minute while everyone else on stage whirls around him. And that’s all in the first three minutes – it would be overwhelming if it wasn’t clearly a choose-your-own-adventure show, seemingly without pressure to take it all in.
As the show develops, the acrobats let you in on their sense of humour, which lends a delightful lightness to the show. Their choreography includes, and often centers around, something I have never seen before in circus: performers deliberately messing with each other. You have the ‘Rube Goldberg’ routines, where the cast scatters across the stage and each trick is triggered by some light contact from the previous trick, snaking the action around the stage. On the other hand, you also have tightly choreographed shoves that see a base pushed from under a flier and replaced. Even Backbone’s 70 minutes was not long enough to get used to seeing this – it got genuine gasps from the audience every time.
The humour also came through in the design of the show. Props included buckets filled with grit, stones the size of newborn babies, and long poles – all of which got used in the show, all in creative and sometimes terrifying ways. The onstage costume rack served the sole purpose of being fun, with acrobats changing both between and during acts, including several routines of trading costumes amongst themselves. The multi-intstrumental live band, consisting of Eliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory performing original music, was incredible, and the lighting design by Geoff Cobham was the best I have ever seen in circus and was an absolute masterclass in getting the best out of the phenomenal rig available in McEwan Hall.
Almost every single element of Backbone deserves individual praise, from the ones mentioned here to the all-female handstand routine (another first, for me at least), but shock and delight go hand in hand, so I’ll just say: don’t miss it.