Liberty, Equality, Jonglerie: Countless Revolutions Whirl in France

Liberty, Equality, Jonglerie: Countless Revolutions Whirl in France

by Cindy Marvell

August 2004


As Lance Armstrong crossed the line for his record 6th Tour de France finish, a record 4,500 jugglers commenced crossing numerous borders to converge on Carvin for the European Juggling Convention (EJC). The organizers had a heads-up that this was no ordinary year when 1,800 jugglers showed up the day before the festival officially started. While Carvin sounds like “caravan,” the town of winding cobblestones and cornfields is an offshoot of Lille, 40 minutes by train from Paris.

Cool summer weather kept the sweating to an artistic level in the three sports halls. Jugglers spilled over into any outdoor space available, creating an obstacle course of staff twirling, contact juggling, clubbing, and “team combat.” The tent city, which began right outside the main gym, seemed to grow endlessly as more and MORE jugglers arrived to set up camp. Large tents accommodated the traders (prop vendors), breakfast (baguette avec nutella), bar and cabaret, and Renegade show. One “real” tent circus featured a five-person passing act on different levels. The mother of all tents housed both the nightly open stage and the Public Show, performed twice to accommodate all.

Speaking of high numbers, I received an unusual query before the festival. “Would you count to 10,000—in English?” Actually, I only had to start at 9,000, by which time the London-based Gandini Juggling Project had passed through the majority of their 3-hour plus exhibition of technique and choreography. Jugglers were told they could come and go during the event, but there was still a large crowd present to witness the final throws–or catches? As overlapping counters of different tongues from Portuguese to Swedish started at 1, creating the largely numerical soundtrack, various Gandini performers moved in and out of the square stage space surrounded by spectators and assumed various formations with balls, clubs and rings. As usual in a Gandini performance, the technical juggling climaxes were distributed throughout the piece, with equal performance value given to each ensemble pattern or solo combination. It was truly a marvel to observe talented soloists emerge into the space only to merge repeatedly and unexpectedly with their compatriots.

Gandini alumnus Karen Bourre mysteriously circled the area with a chair, bouncing five balls at intervals. Manu Laude, a noteworthy talent, enhanced the piece with his difficult acrobatic juggling and dancerly line. At times he seemed to pounce on the clubs in mid-flight. Flying from Switzerland to stardom, 15-year-old Joelle Huguenin (2 dots over the first e in Joelle) emerged as one of the week’s delights. She crossed the arena performing difficult site-swap variations with orange fish clubs at rotating points. A Gandini protégé, she has also studied with Maksim Kamaro and Dennis Paumier. Kati Yla-Hokkala’s juggling shone from all angles. Because she moves so well as a result of her rhythmic gymnastics background, people sometimes forget what a great technical juggler she is. The smoothness and control she has over her 5-ring variations is reminiscent of Kezia Tenenbaum.

The core ensemble included Inaki Fernadez Sastre of Spain, Owen Reynolds of Ireland, and Howie Bayley of England. Guests from France, Finland and Norway joined in as co-choreographer Gill Clarke looked on. The centeredness of the troupe’s club and ring juggling makes the patterns so beautiful to watch and so clean in execution. The performers can be very quick, but they don’t hold back from throwing to great heights; one club missed the very high ceiling by five centimeters max (yes, they caught it). At the center of all this centeredness orbited Sean and Kati, the original Gandini jugglers. If it were possible for a hush to come over the arena, it would have been appropriate during Sean and Kati’s duet sequence, appearing late in the program. Trading balls and seemingly bodies as their arms intertwined to exchange objects, they created as close an entity of duet magic as can exist on this fast-moving sphere. Soon they would be flying to a 3-week stint in Dubai, and working on new pieces set to Mozart.

The phrase “local talent” acquires new meaning when used at a circus event in France. Most nights saw a 90-minute spectacle francaise preceding the open stage. Tr’espace, Roman Muller and Petronella von Zerboni, performed their magnificent diabolo act. The couple, recently featured on the cover of Kaskade, has created quite a buzz since winning a silver medal at Cirque de Demain. With smooth and impossible moves, they express themes of couplehood not through stagy flirtation, just by supporting and touching each other as diaboloists. The two met as students at the Scuola Teatro Dimitri in Switzerland. Their “horizontal diabolo playing” allows them greater freedom of movement and more dynamic imagery. This new technique, in which a diabolo stays in the upright hourglass position and is then looped and whipped in a horizontal plane, has already caught on and seems destined to change the face of the art.

Paul Anderson of the ABC Circus in Florida recruited jugglers for the open stage. His own trio, including IJA team medallists Dirk Meyer and Daniel Megnet of Germany, performed a polished version of the acro/juggling collaboration which debuted at last year’s EJC in Denmark. Terry Wells of Australia, who also attended the IJA, opened the show with his character-driven choreography using multiple diabolos and clubs.

Manu Laude stepped out of the Gandini project with an impressive club solo. Wearing white and beginning on the floor with yoga-like manipulation of two orange clubs, he progressed to 3, 4, and 5, weaving manipulation with original choreography. Manu comes from Montemare in Southern France and began dancing at age 4, later taking trapeze and acrobatics before learning juggling from his school’s short-lived circus program. In addition to his work with the Gandinis, he performs with the French Dance Company Festival and partners with Jay Gilligan.

The physically creative trio Die Pylohanten of Germany manipulated yellow traffic cones. Janine from Colon found his own style with staff manipulation, giving a brilliant demonstration of the diversity of this prop. And the quintet Zambaini, Germany’s answer to the Jugheads, impressed the crowd with classy and controlled passing including a double weave feed, 2-high towers, and a drop-back line. Another German talent, 14-year-old Christof, showed speedy, spiffy club juggling with up to six.

Narirus the stiltwalker, an EJC regular, and Jan the European yo-yo champion took jugglers into other worlds; after a few minutes, we were all true believers. Jesus Fournier, a Spanish juggler from Cordova, juggled and spun soccer balls with refreshing excitement and pizzazz. A student of the Cuban juggler Raphael du (?) Carlos, Fournier was an open stage favorite. But all acts seemed to lead to Paris Boudeau, the sextet of diaboloists dubbed “the Mad French Posse” by Matt Hall. This incredible, free-spirited ensemble came together for the purpose of exploring the variations that mean the most to them, sort of like the Stanford Institute. A four and five diabolo shower exchange intrigued the appreciative audience. Priam Peirret and Sylvestre “Trash” Dena explained that their new DVD, “Diabology,” includes everything from “Baguettes and Diabolos,” by Eric Longequel and Antonin Harlz, to “Siteswaps Freestyle” by Baptiste Durand and Jobe Hurteaux, to “Diabolos and Snowboard.” Luminary Tony Frebourg also works with the troupe.

Lana Bolin MC’d the final open stage with Jay Gilligan. In her second year at the EJC, the Minnesota native performed fluidly with rings. Other IJA regulars in attendance included contingents from the Orange County and Austin affiliates. American-turned-proudly-Dutch Lee Hayes juggled two bilingual children as he recounted recent shows in Holland and Australia. Danny Avrutick, from Silver Springs, MD, could not miss this year’s event, having lived in Lille for years. Avrutick’s collection of wind instruments could be heard wafting over the action. Now based in Leipsig, Germany, he taught “Juggling and Divination,” using street performing experience to help others reach themselves and their audiences. Canadian Bobb Carr taught another well-attended performance workshop. “I do not believe we were put on this earth to work,” concluded the dedicated busker. Carr has worked quite hard himself, starting a circus school in East Germany’s Rostock.

Wondrous sights surrounded the juggling viewer at all times. Two French jugglers seemed to have a perpetual audience, taking up residence in the space near the entrance to the gym. Elyafi Walid and Renauld Sebastien, from Nancy, mixed arm circles and high-arching throws with eccentric timing and fluidity, keeping up an intriguing display of pure juggling for its own sake. A more theatrical German-French collaboration has ensued between Gregor Kiock from Munich and Thierry Nadalini of France. Their hour-long show, Ceci n’est pas un Jongleur, combines music, dance and comedy. The duo, admirers of Airjazz, recently celebrated their 100th performance and are bracing for more.

On parade night, a flaming extravaganza wove its way through the streets of Carvin. Anya Hubschle came from Berlin to orchestrate a fire show by Sista Firewire. About 40 jugglers painted a striking image in the night sky. Carpe Noctem Productions from Hanor kept the flame and Annika Zimmermann used the chance to gear up for the upcoming Torino Street Theater Festival. Fireworks supplied by the town of Carvin ended in a fiery 27, the number of EJCs.

How did my own EJC experience fair? It was a treat to perform “Carmen Street Fantasy” on the open stage. The flexible workshop schedule gives jugglers a chance to request follow-up workshops. As a resident of tent city, I was one of the sleepless multitudes who wondered why it was desirable to blast music all night long. In addition to a few objects, I caught a cold and a collection of English and Israeli decongestants.

What better insurance plan than joining an orchestra? This year I had the opportunity to play in the IJO, or International Juggling Orchestra, organized by Antonio —-. Now based in Columbia, B originated the concept last year. 9-year-old Oleg Shilton from Israel served as conductor, a role for which he now has seniority. He and his older brother, Segev, who also perform as a duo, integrated diabolo with entertainment, amusing obsessive “musicians” and audience alike. Luke Burrage led the beanbag section to new heights of seated site-swappery accompanied by Sylvain Garnavault of Normandy, also a Gandini guest. Joelle Huguenin serenaded us with a fluty 3-ball solo, weaving melodic gestures into her patterns.

As the show began, a film tribute to Francis Brunn played on a large screen. Brunn performed his circus act to music from Les Commedians, giving those who never saw him live a chance to marvel, and those who did a moment to be overcome by his genius anew.

What juggling show could follow Francis Brunn? Well, perhaps this one. It was a night of captivating solos and duets, with some of the most talented jugglers in the world creating magical, risky and skillful artistry on stage. All the acts were highly focused and intense, blending technical know-how with theatrical savoir-faire. Luke Wilson, the English half of lukaluka, performed a piece he began last fall. To a jazzy piano soundtrack, he began with devilstick and moved on to his trademark three club moves.

While Wilson’s juggling is so intricate and sprightly, his endings are more deeply communicative than hyperactive. A graceful 4-club routine built to a beautiful balance moment. After a run of 4-club chin-rolls, he stopped each club with his foot as they came to rest in a line on the floor. Donning a jacket from his prop stand, he retrieved the fifth club from the hanger. Kicking up into a five-club cascade, he performed a long run including multiplex variations.

Stephan & Phillip, in pink and black striped unitards, began an understated yet exotic presentation using amplified sound effects to accent headrolls. Their behind-the-head throws increased incredibly in speed with half pirouettes tossed in.

Returning legend Jochen Schell, known for his diabolo expertise, surprised the audience with a ring routine. Using large flat rings, he mixed elements from Moschenesque moves to bygone bicycle hoop rolling with great atmosphere and style. Using sustained and powerful choreography to bass sounds, the act contained a mills mess into hand rolls, overhead flats, ring-to-foot tosses, bounce-back tosses, and other forms of hand spins. Schell explained that, in the work he does for variety theaters, he usually performs both diabolo and ring acts. A Frankfurt native, he is working on more new material with a Japanese top.

Tonight he left the diabolo work to one of his admirers, Lena —-, also from Germany. Dressed in white dance attire, she posed like a flamingo with an orange diabolo cradled under her knee. Long known for her 3-diabolo start, Lena has her own way of doing each trick, and her ways are so wonderful to watch. With two diabolos under masterful control, she performed a sit-down overhead spin. She also accomplished a neck-catch with two diabolos into a foot suspension behind her back, and thrilled the audience with three.

Lena has grown into quite an artiste after making an impact on the convention scene with her impressive technique. She began when a juggling teacher left a box of equipment for her to experiment with; she picked out a diabolo and never put it down. Now, in the midst of a degree program at Cirkus Piloterna in Sweden. She works with a multi-skilled ensemble, Fan-atticks, and is looking forward to pursuing her performance career.

Ben Smalls of England is a must-see juggler with an amazing mix of technique, comedy and class. Gracefully portraying a tramp character, he entered in a vest suit with suitcase. The pauses in this act were so effective, yielding comedic and poetic moments. Just about every trick came on a transition, like a pirouette or Mills’ mess pattern into flats, or a kick-up into the pattern from a scissors grip. Smalls has the ability to get up into the air himself when not doing arm rests or wrap-around throws. Moving on to four and five clubs, he managed to combine multiplex and bounce-back passes as the audience clapped along. Even the return of clubs to case was perfectly timed to the music and mood.

Jay Gilligan and Manu Laud pumped it up a notch with a slammin’ wackem-dead throbbing good passing act. Five-club runarounds and seven-club ultimates were just the warm-up as Manu ended up doing 5 out of a face-on take-away. Continuous backcrosses with six clubs, ever more wild takeaways and trade-offs, and a flawless 10-ring pattern followed, culminating in 6 rings each while running across the stage to face different ways. Manu caught passes in a 5-club chase facing away from Jay. Eight clubs back-to-back, including ultimate singles, nine-club singles, then doubles. After a clean 10-club run, Manu collected clubs—and ear-shattering applause to match the music. The ending was pure testosterone. Passing 11 clubs led to 12, and they got it on the second try-bravo!

Only an intermission could follow. Since bathrooms were co-ed, we can’t say anything about the lines. As the second half opened, audiences got a surprise. Tony Frebourg, the French diaboloist who won an award at Cirque de Demain this year, is working at the Moulin Rouge. He came to Carvin with a bad French posse of can-can dancers. Actually they were quite good but not as good as Frebourg, many of whose outrageous diabolo variations have proven inimitable thus far. Frebourg did not shy away from sharing a work-in-progress, which took the entire height of the very high tent: four diabolos on a string. Many of his other moves, however, are equally impressive. A flying suicide involved throwing sticks into the air to catch a diabolo. Since Donald Grant was missed at this year’s fest, one could not help feeling him here in spirit as the diabolomania continued to unprecedented, untangled, and unfettered extremes d’accomplishment.

Karen Bourre does not need can-can dancers. If Marlene Deitrich or Ann Miller had been a juggler, this would be the act. Entering in a slinky blue dress with high heels, Karen danced three balls around, incorporating head rolls and a balance while removing a scarf. Continuing to bounce the balls under a pedestal, she mounted the platform after rolling balls across it seductively. Jugglers were impressed by her transitions from a five-ball lift to force bounce and back, as well as by the variations under her leg and with column patterns. Bourre kept her eyes fixed on the audience during a kneeling lift bounce, then continued to 6 balls, including column and crossing variations. Using the heel of her shoe to lift the seventh ball, she ended flawlessly. A Cirque Baroque performer, she showed she could juggle dance, clown and burlesque with technical precision.

Speaking of fancy footwork, the next act proved a shoe-in for audience approval. The German duo, Take That Out, Florian Muller-Reissmann (2 dots over u) and Jochen Pfeiffer, performed a powerfully conceived act, “Get the Shoe.” Using martial arts characters and choreography, they never lost the thematic thread through numerous club takeaways, chase and passing variations, and received a standing ovation. Both trained at the Catacombs in Berlin and are teaching there now.

Thomas Dietz, the IJA Individuals Champ, makes such tricks as five-ball mills mess look like child’s play. That’s how it started: he said his father taught him to juggle when he was three. Dietz comes from Regensburg, Bavaria, north of Munich. He also performed with his team partner, Mark Probst, or Schani, from Vienna. The sports parody, complete with WJF T-shirt, towel and push-ups, amused many.

“Thomas played himself tonight, and it worked,” commented Alan Blim, an organizer of the Catacombs, a juggling/aerial space in Berlin that offers workshops. Ben Smalls and Maksim Komaro will be teaching there this fall, and Dietz himself is a regular. Dietz, known for his phenomenal technique and good nature, described his parents’ tearful reaction upon hearing that he had won the competition in Buffalo. He hopes to find work in Las Vegas.

Another powerhouse with an IJA histoire closed the show. Francoise Rochais, the 1995 champ, performed the act she did at Juggle That in New York last spring. Watching Rochais makes me just want to move to her world and stay there. Combining difficult skills with poetry, freedom and romanticism, she clinched the show with her trademark 4-club singles in a split, umbrella moves inspired by German juggler Eva Vida, and six and seven clubs.

A standing ovation ensued for the performers and organizers. The site of next year’s EJC was all but settled at the business meeting: Slovenia, in Austria, near the border of Hungary. Until then, how best to sum up this fantastical series of endless nights? With over 4,000 quotes to choose from, perhaps we should leave that honor to the local paper, in response to the parade night:

Pour les enfants eternals, la nuit sera longue. Et toujours etoilee.