No Tigers, Clowns or Brass Bands - Backbone a Circus For This CenturyWednesday, October 31, 2018
|Backbone - October 30 2018- Vancouver Playhouse - Tiger - Buenos Aires Zoo - 2017|
Tumble: Perform acrobatic feats, typically handsprings and somersaults in the air.
Being an old remnant of the 20th century that I am from, my idea of a circus is based on a past when circuses came to town, pitched a tent or two and featured elephants, lions, tigers, horses and (once for me!) a boxing kangaroo. I have always loved in my memory the smells of those animals. While my mother would say that any orchestra that played out of tune sounded like a circus band, I have liked that sound with its brass instruments.
My granddaughter Rebecca, 21, as a little girl we visited Morelia, Mexico. On our way to town I noticed a sign advertising the best known Mexican circus, Circo Atayde Hermanos. I asked Rebecca if she would want to go. Her answer was short and furious, “No I don’t want to go to a circus that mistreats animals.”
It was Rebecca whom I took to the Vancouver Aquarium years ago and I especially made sure we sat on the first row. In our family she was the last to be splashed by a killer whale in captivity.
So with my eyes focused now on the idea of a 21st century circus I want to point out that I hate:
1. Tumbling especially since as a little boy tumbling made me dizzy.
With that all in my mind my Rosemary and I attended the Cultch presentation at the Vancouver Playhouse of Backbone – Gravity & Other Myths (Australia), directed by Darcy Grant, that featured 10 flexible and strong human beings and two musicians. One Christopher Neale on drums (I am not sure if he alternates with drummer and composer Elliot Zoerner) and Shenton Gregory who plays electric piano and a violin which he holds in a most unusual position. We did not know what to expect.
I am pleased to report that there were no jugglers, almost no clowning, and that the music was never intrusive or loud. It was just right.
Lighting (and stage design) by Geoff Cobham was magnificent but never over the top. The dancers/tumblers/gymnasts (what else can I call them?) threw something that looked like dark sawdust on the floor from shiny new buckets. I later found out that it was not sawdust but little pellets made from re-cycled car tires.
As for the show itself that had 7 men and 3 women, I have to redefine my idea of what the show was really about. Off the top the show is beautifully and elegantly choreographed. Yes it is gymnastics. Yes it is tumbling and yes there is some balancing of long poles and (yes!) people on heads, hands and feet so that there could be a semblance of juggling. But most of all because I am a modern dance enthusiast I saw a lot of that in Backbone.
The 80 minute long show, which has to be one heck of physical trial for the performers who never stop, is delightful and fun to watch because those 10 performers do all their stuff with enthusiasm and smiles.
The sweating and effort somehow is balanced by a tad of humour. Best of all while Backbone is certainly not a circus it featured something of circuses of old. This is the idea of the three-ring circus. At any moment there was a lot of stuff going on stage. If you looked at something on one side there was something else happening that I did not want to miss.
Rosemary and I left the show soothed, relaxed and pleased. I did not miss the tigers, lions, elephants and horses.
But I think I still miss the smell of a circus. The recycled car tire pieces might have been mixed with hair from the Ornithorhynchus anatinus for a scent of the truly Australian.