The young woman looking down at me is perched, one-handed, on a wooden block attached to a metal pole rising from a platform on the floor. Her face is about 12 inches from mine. That’s how it feels, anyway. As the camera glued to my face rapid-fires like a stuttering machine gun, I’m thinking, “How about a smile?” To which she might reasonably respond, “Can you see what I’m doing here? Are you kidding?”
I’m lying underneath an acrobat methodically twisting herself into a pretzel above me. That’s how my Spoleto begins. Adelaide, Australia’s new circus troupe Gravity & Other Myths is in the house.
Along with the invitation to get up close (and under) this photo opp, one of her fellow performers in the troupe has teased her and warned me, “She’s already broken three cameras!” I don’t believe this for a second.
The young woman’s name is Rhiannon Cave-Walker. Hand-standing is her specialty. As is being used as a jump rope by two of her male counterparts. And being flung through the air by them. As far as can be judged by these feats, she is virtually weightless. In my present situation, vis-à-vis our positions relative to each other, I’m putting her weightlessness in the plus column. No worries.
We’re in the Emmett Robinson Theatre where Gravity & Other Myths will be performing their piece, A Simple Space. Earlier, as we made our way to the theater-in-the-round stage, the troupe’s tour manager Tessa Leon (a writer and cabaret performer herself) had advised us to pay no attention to the stuff littering the edge of the stage — a wide variety of colorful things that might be toys. Dutifully, we looked away. But we remain intrigued.
Leon’s charges are bounding around, warming up, clearly enjoying themselves. She asks, “What would you like them to do?”
Oh, good Lord. Umm…
Gratefully, the troupe know exactly what to do without any direction and they are absolutely not camera shy. They charge into a series of acrobatic displays which, given the cozy confines of the stage, require particularly high levels of skill and concentration. They give each other notes as they go along, adjusting a hand placement here, the timing of a movement there. There’s a serious discipline in all this to be sure, but that only makes all the smiling and pats of encouragement exchanged among them that much more endearing. They spend a lot of time together. And they clearly like one another a lot, too. Like family. Only more so.
The main thing I come away with from this unusual experience, having briefly put myself in their care so to speak, is that trust is the most basic element of their craft and the reward of dedication to excellence. Given what they do routinely to one another, trust would be high on my list, too.
Note: for more backstage insights, Tessa Leon blogs about the troupe’s touring life at Navigating Gravity.
Video of rehearsal, Friday May 23