As live theatre and music performance emerges in this country from the prison of Covid, the Adelaide Festival emerges as one of the driving forces. The previous Festival finished within one hour of the first lockdown last March, and the present one, despite being beset by enormous difficulties in preparation, is being staged just as restrictions are being eased enough to make it viable.
If you wanted to make a statement about the defeat of the disease you couldn't find a better show than The Pulse, by the Adelaide company Gravity And Other Myths. This company, formed relatively recently, has already achieved an international reputation with tours abroad. In this show the thirty acrobats were complemented by 30 singers, the Aurora women's voice choir, also locally based, who took part in the event physically as well as musically.
Darcy Grant, its director, puts it succinctly: "From the sobering scenario of being an acrobatics company who couldn't touch each other, we conceived The Pulse".
It was an extraordinarily liberating experience as an audience member, being in Her Majesty's Theatre wearing masks and attempting at least a modicum of social distancing, to see these thirty bodies, throwing each other around, sprawling on top of each other, piling up in patterns resembling the Eiffel Tower and standing on each other's shoulders, while a 30-voice choir, also on stage and indeed participating fully in the action, sang Ekram Eli Phoenix's music in full voice.
It was also a relief not to be blasted by techno-ish sounds, but instead to be able to relish Phoenix's inhabiting the world of a cappella singing. The choir was miked, but still sounded natural. He wrote the score specifically for this show, and one of the pieces was medieval in spirit, another renaissance, honouring what the choir would be used to singing in their offstage life. For a number where the choir was especially integrated with the acrobats, he used the passamezzo bass from Monteverdi's Lamento della ninfa as a matrix for a fabulous, partly improvised interplay between the acrobats and the conductor, Christie Anderson, who is also the spectacular mezzo-soprano soloist.
But what a Pulse the acrobats exhibited! What unanimity, what complicity in their formation and deformation of their complex body structures! And the company played with expectation delightfully. The opening number involved the choir singing 'One! Two! One!' At Two, the acrobats were two-high; at three they were three-high; and then the choir sang One Two Three Four, and we all gasped at the prospect of them going four-high. They didn't. Yet. Then half an hour into the show they did. And at another moment they formed themselves in two improbable towers of flesh, which were quite far apart and with a single acrobat on the top of each tower. Those pinnacle acrobats looked at each other and a voice came over the PA, 'It looks as if they are going to do something really dangerous'. But then the towers dissolved.
Gravity & Other Myths occasionally took us backstage, in a figurative sense. At a certain point the acrobats needed to change the scene, and came into the audience to ask the crew to throw down ropes. Of course we all thought they were going to use the ropes for circus tricks, but, no, they were just to create a lighting pattern which changed from time to time. But this was an example of the connection they established with everyone in the theatre, which started onstage with the choir.
I am a musician, not an expert in physical theatre. But this show was a gob-smacking experience.
2021 Adelaide Festival
Gravity & Other Myths
Director Darcy Grant
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre | 58 Grote St, Adelaide SA
Dates: 25 Feb – 3 Mar, 2021
Tickets: $69 – $25