Watching the Pendulum in Portland

Watching the Pendulum in Portland

“The Europeans come out of angst (like, two world wars, for example) and a deep desire to work artistically, spiritually, to make a statement. Americans grow from our vaudeville roots, and we just want to have fun!”

–Laura Green

Portland, the pearl of Oregon, has been called a European city. The Portland Convention Center, where the IJA Festival materialized, contains another rarity: Foucault’s pendulum. It rotates as it swings, mirroring the earth’s rotation. I enjoyed watching the pendulum swing between the IJA’s event-filled scenario and the EJC’s circus ambiance.

Frida Odden Brinkmann of Norway bounced balls on the marble galaxy beneath the pendulum. She also took Jerome Thomas’ workshop. Throw in a large number of visiting Asian jugglers, an Ukranian circus star, and American know-how from technicians like Matt Hall and Jason Garfield, and you have juggling bliss.

The opening dinner/show was an IJA classic. Perennial entertainer Rhys Thomas led the local talent pool. He attributed its depth to the large juggling club at Reed College. Thomas geared up for his next gig at the Alaska State Fair by sending up mental health, along with a few choice objects.

Festival planners Katje Sabin and Bill Gilliand are an IJA couple en tie-dye who led the Damento mini-fest before taking on the maxi-fest. They and their four children immersed themselves in the IJA’s wacky family (over 600 attended) and came up smiling. They even gave out first-aid kits with the IJA logo.

What could be more IJA than the Juniors Competition, complete with a Christmas tree, which lighted on cue? That and seven balls won second place for Tony Pezzo. William Wei-liang Lin of Taiwan took home the gold. In addition to the medallists, teenager Doug Sayers won two of the numbers competitions and will also be at the World Juggling Federation (WJF) in August. Dorothy Finnigan, a former Juniors medallist, acquitted herself magnificently as last-minute MC.

Artem Khomanko of Kiev won the Lucas Cup. His eye-popping fling included stellar 3-club technique, juggling 4 clubs while bouncing a volleyball on his head, and 5 clubs while balancing a headpiece on which he bounced a ball (repeated on stilts). He also juggled 9 rings on stilts, a feat for which he claims to hold the record, and wowed the crowd with his outgoing performance energy. It was classic vaudeville and traditional circus rolled into one, complete with IJA flags manipulated for a finale.

Michael Karas served notice that the competitions have gone quirky. Karas is a great talent on the American scene, with fine-tuned technique and wonderful performance ideas and abilities. Karas is definitely one to watch, whether in competition, performance or practice. He won a bronze medal and will perform at the Pittsburgh Playhouse this fall. Check Karas’ web site, JUGGLinGsanity, a haven for experimental juggling.

Strange though it sounds, it was as if the EJC came to the IJA on Friday night. This show, which swapped names with the “Cascade of Stars,” was produced by Sky King of Kinetic Juggling and featured guest artists the Mud Bay Jugglers of Olympia, WA, and juggler/choreographer Jerome Thomas of Paris.

The Mud Bay jugglers (Douglas Martin, Alan Fitzthum, and Harry Levine) look a bit like the Flying Karamazov Brothers, but their beards may be even longer. Their theatrically sustained characters and slo mo yet intricate interceptions were wondrous to behold. The Juggling Jollies, Amiel Martin, son of Douglas, Jule McEvoy-Schaefer, and River Mitchelle, added acrobatic pizzazz, culminating in a pyramid of club passing.

Jerome Thomas does not have a beard. He does have an amazing repertoire of tricks and moves, and his performance was eagerly anticipated. Thomas taught an intensive workshop that got rave reviews from students.

The midnight shows began at 11pm and were held on the roof of the local hotel, outside the bar. Acts ranging from Sharita’s belly dancing to Bob Nickerson’s poetry reading rocked the roof. The shows remained high and dry—but not too dry, and only moderately high…Ngaio and rope-spinner Keith Bindlestiff, whose tent show plays New York in the fall, were popular MCs.

Extreme Juggling, organized by Jack Kalvan and Ben Tolpin, was the hot new event in Portland. X challenged the jugglers to perform difficult tricks in isolation. Those braving gravity to be the coolest of the cool included Sean Blue with innovative ball spinning (he also won the 3-ring prop event) and Cate Flaherty with 3-ball stunts (she also won club gathering).

In the Individual Prop Competition, an informal version of the stage competitions, many thought the diabolo event was an IJA best. Excalibur moves (or horizontal play) have caught on. Yohei Ota won the devil stick event in a contest in which the value of flower sticks vs. “real” devil sticks was hotly debated. Ota’s devil stick wheel with rotating hand sticks was also a hit in the stage competition.

The highest concentration of female jugglers in the competitions is still found in teams, as demonstrated by the duo Les Filles and the Taipei Physical Education College quartet. There was one in Juniors: Patty Yi-Chieh Liao of Taiwan with diabolos. The Stanford Juggling Research Institute included a co-ed ensemble, making use of the escalators to elevate their skills yet another notch.

One could also watch former Junior & Senior champ Ryo Yabe working out between gigs in Tokyo. To see more, try the Japan Juggling Festival in October ( Yabe practiced hoop rolling with Carter Brown, as did team silver medallists The Dew Drop Jugglers. Diabolo duo Vanillatown also competed with a clever and buoyant routine. Allan Jacobs of the Gizmo Guys traded hat tricks with Championships Director Craig Barnes. Heather Marriott led the joggling races.

Ben and Yvette Schoenberg of Serious Juggling were among the vendors; their shop has moved to a new location in Portland. Dave Finnigan put up a “Necrology Board” honoring those recently passed, including Ryder Schwartz. See Alan Howard’s story in the last issue of JUGGLE or New Yorker Viveca Gardiner wrote the daily “Portland Report,” including Australian Reg Bolton in memorium.

Judy Finelli was the first female IJA president and founder of the Circus Center in San Francisco. To honor her the IJA arranged a special screening of Trailblazers: Women Who Juggle, which includes some of Finelli’s performances with the Pickle Family Circus. The DVD features diverse artistes from Ilka Licht and Kati Yla-Hokkala to Francoise Rochais and Noelle Franco. There is also rare footage and commentary by Lottie Brunn. After the film, Iman Lizarazu and Lana Bolin joined a squad led by filmmaker Connie Leaverton to pass clubs around Finelli. Wendy Parkman, Finelli’s juggling partner, also attended.

Kumar Pallana, 87, was the IJA’s special guest, winning the Lifetime Achievement Award. His lecture earlier on everything from his beginnings in India to his act on The Ed Sullivan Show and his later work in films (Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal) was captivating. Closing the Farewell Show, Kumar explained the mechanics of tray and plate spinning, rolling a globe on an umbrella and charming the audience with his everlasting appeal. Present in the audience was Bill Dietrich, who attended the first IJA festival in 1948 (think of the angst, the fun, the fools).

Individual Prop cigar box champion Nicholas Flair performed a new act involving acrobatics, mime, and hat manipulation. Peter Panic used his experience working the Edmonton Street Performers’ Festival to create a special routine for IJA audiences. His trademark volleyball routine was impressive as always.

“This man has no visible means of support!” Mr. Panic claimed while riding a tall unicycle. Juggler/comedian Scotty Meltzer directed the show.

Jugglers were encouraged to call NBC TV and vote for Mark Faje, a contestant on America’s Got Talent. Ivan Pecel, who also performed in the Farewell Show, was among the truly talented entrants. And at the time of this writing, The Passing Zone has advanced to the finals. Owen Morse and Jon Wee won the IJA’s “Award of Excellence.” They made a gracious acceptance speech in character and received a well-deserved standing ovation. Sandy Brown won the Extraordinary Service award.

Vova and Olga Galchenko were featured in Time Magazine, and made an appearance on the Today Show in New York. It sounds like they are headed to the WJF in August. Check the Galchenko’s web site for the full story and video.

If Kumar was the oldest juggler in attendance, it seems the youngest was my 5-week-old, Theo. We spent many hours watching the pendulum in Portland, and the jugglers. May the momentum stay with them until the next IJA Festival in North Carolina.

Cindy Marvell, August 2006