Gravity & Other Myths brings thrilling acrobatics to Spoleto 2014 — a review

I would love to know the subset of human beings who can:

A) solve a Rubik’s cube in a couple of minutes,
B) do the last few moves behind their backs,
C) accomplish those tasks while standing on their heads on a small pedestal in front of a couple hundred incredulous people,
D) do all that after half an hour of ridiculous jumps, falls, throws, and flips, under the glare of a handful of tiny spotlights.

Daniel Liddiard falls into that narrow subset of human beings, and his amazing trick was just one of the highlights of A Simple Space, the thrilling American debut by the Australian acrobatics troupe Gravity & Other Myths at Spoleto USA in Charleston this week. (Performances continue through Tuesday, May 27 — highly recommended, if you can snag a ticket.)

The Emmett Robinson Theatre at the College of Charleston has been transformed into a theater-in-the-round for this show. The 8-member troupe — 5 male acrobats, 2 female acrobats, 1 excellent percussionist — performed in a space that’s even smaller and simpler than the name A Simple Space implies. The performance area is no more than a couple hundred square feet (smaller than the front parlor in many modest historic homes here in Savannah) with audience seating pulled up almost right to the edge.

There’s plenty of humor along the way — I especially loved the idea of raising my hand and saying “Falling” under the expectation that someone would catch me, but I resisted the temptation to try it in the lobby after the show.

The fast-paced performance included a wonderful game of “strip jumprope” as three of the male acrobats tried to outdo each other. When one particularly hunky performer was forced to strip to his boxer briefs, a woman behind me, who kept up a vaguely hysterical running commentary throughout, said, “I hope he loses again.”

Without a trace of irony, one of her companions replied, “Why do you say that?”

I would be irritated by so much talk in the audience at most shows, but not this one — the intimacy of the space and the winning personalities of the performers encouraged audience involvement, and we’d probably all just had a few drinks with dinner anyway.

I’ve seen some other physical theatre at Spoleto over the years — and it’s pretty much always excellent. But those shows have been on larger stages and have felt a little less spontaneous than A Simple Space.

It’s hard to beat solving a Rubik’s cube while doing a headstand and a game of strip jumprope (anyone?), but there were plenty of other fine moments, including various combinations that resulted in the female acrobats standing atop the shoulders — or even head — of a male acrobat standing on another’s shoulders, some spectacular throws and catches, a few wince-inducing contortions, a melee with even the audience throwing plastic balls at the performers, and a manic contest to see which of the acrobats with Gravity & Other Myths could do the most standing back flips.

And sweat. There was a lot of sweat, which the women behind me seemed especially fascinated by.

And did I mention that all of this took just under an hour?

Afterward, the troupe was scattered in the lobby to greet the audience — a personal touch that brought the evening to an emotionally satisfying end.