The stage is a small rectangle, with a set of lights at each corner. The performers — five men and two women — enter, turning the lights on. One guy sits down in front of an electronic drum set and laptop and begins playing an aggressive dance beat. One acrobat screams, “Falling!” and starts falling backwards into the empty space behind her. Before hitting the floor one of the guys runs from his corner of the stage and catches her, but before he does, another acrobat has already screamed, “Falling!” from another corner of the stage, and another performer has run to catch him. What is unfolding in front of us is basically the “trust” game that many of us have been forced to play at one time or another (camp, a workplace team-building session), where you fall backwards into another person’s arms. But here the game is ratcheted up many, many notches. Everything moves at a crazy fast pace, and each time someone falls you wonder if there will be someone there in time to catch them. And when they start climbing onto each others’ shoulders and heads, stacked three people high, and falling from such ridiculous heights, the audience collectively holds its breath, anticipating a tragedy that thankfully never comes.
But this was just the beginning of an astounding hour-long game of trust, an endless series of “holy crap!!” moments, each one more impressive than the last. At one point one of the guys solved a Rubik’s cube. Upside down. Balanced only on his head, on a tiny piece of wood at the top end of a stick, his feet in the air, starfish-like. At another point there was a high-speed back-flipping contest, and then there was the part where the audience threw hundreds of plastic balls at the performers as they stood on their hands. Other highlights included the drummer playing his body, a strip skipping session between three of the guys (each time one of them tripped up his skipping rope, he had to remove one of his three articles of clothing . . .), and the woman balanced upside down, her hands on wooden squares at the top of poles stuck into a wooden plaque on the ground, supporting her own body weight with one or both hands as she twisted and turned, upside down and sidewise, her body making a mockery of gravity.
But really the most salient parts of the hour-long performance were the times when the performers depended on each other for their lives. And I’m not exaggerating. These acrobats perform death-defying feats of physical prowess. How else to describe the intense vulnerability that comes with jumping directly on your colleagues’ ribs, or throwing your friends through the air, over and over, at high speed across the stage, relying on the precision and strength of those meant to catch them, or climbing into complicated positions on top of your fellow performers’ heads, chest, shoulders and knees, while moving in undulating formations across the stage. Indeed, what struck me most forcefully about this show was that despite, or really because of, their unparalleled strength and agility, these acrobats exposed the most profound vulnerability of being human: that you have to trust and depend on other people to keep yourself from stumbling to your death.
A must see.
A Simple Space performs at Agora de la Danse on July 9-12. $18-40.