Going into the York Theatre, I had anticipated to see an attempt at a Cirque du Soleil show including a relatable narrative, simple character arcs, and bodies doing precise and well-trained feats to astound the audience. But my expectations for A Simple Space were blown away.
The young Australian acrobats (all in their early twenties) and their company Gravity and Other Myths, are making a splash in the world of circus performance. Part of what’s attracting so much attention is the way in which they change the frame through which the audience view their work: both literally and metaphorically – but I don’t want to spoil the audience participatory fun.
I was surprised as I entered into the theatre to be greeted by a unique four-corner lighting set surrounding a fairly small, square padded mat and chairs for audience members. The live electronic drummer began the show and set a rhythm for the evening that both communicated and competed with the performers.
As the hour long show progressed, I was astounded time and time again by the quirky, tongue-in-cheek, vignettes of games that the acrobats and live musicians were playing with one another. Starting the work, the acrobats demonstrated the trust they have in one another and consequently built their trust with the audience. Such a strong agreement of trust between all members in the theatre allowed a sense of ease and welcomed a visceral enjoyment and engagement of the performance.
The acrobats were able to transform simple and automatic movements – walking, balancing, jumping, etc. – into extreme situations which pleasantly joined the ideas of human and beauty. Seeing the silent communication exchanges occur between the seven performers showcased the mechanistic splendour of what a body can do. Sure, there was a plethora of grunts and heavy breathing when the acrobats’ bodies were feeling fatigue, but the grit of desire and pleasure proved the physicality of the work to be an admirable and relatable event. To be fair, the audience was oftentimes groaning louder than the performers in awe.
Another aspect that clearly divorced this from any circus performance I had seen in the past, was the way that the acrobats and musician performed for us, the audience, and for each other. The playfulness and passion described in the program was demonstrated in the performers while they were actively competing with one another. There was one scene of contending backflips in time to the musician’s drumming where I questioned if they had rehearsed their failures as much as they had rehearsed the successes; did they plan who won? Did the performers anticipate a missed jump? If they did, it didn’t show, and their authentic desire of performing was what truly shone through.
The acrobats’ skill was nearly overpowering where I sat in disbelief that a body could do such a thing. Gravity and Other Myths gave a show that demanded the audience to see the performers for what they are; the human connection of seeing skin and sweat and enjoyment was engaging and exciting. I wasn’t concerned that there felt to be no social commentary or critique; I sat in the theatre as an admirer and as a witness to the young acrobats’ excitement in performing. A Simple Space offered a simple brain space, and a simple theatre space, but a far from simple physical space.
A Simple Space plays at the York Theatre from October 13-24. Check out more information on the show here.