I’m currently sat in a hotel lobby in a foreign country typing on a MacbookPro Retina, which Luke would have particularly have approved of. Not only for my superior choice of technology, but also the pretend rock star status of living on the road.
I went through periods of seeing Luke every day, almost every waking hour for a few months, to seeing him randomly once every few months. So it’s only recently that I’ve really come to appreciate that I’m never going to see the particularly skinny Englishman again. Until now it was possible that not running into Luke was an unfortunate side effect of busy calendars. But now, 2 years since his death, I think my brain has fully accepted that meeting Luke is not going to happen again.
Sadness asides, I thought it would be interesting to those who never knew Mr Wilson or his work to use this anniversary as an opportunity to analyse a little of his work and try and understand some of the detail and reasoning in his compositions.
I’ve been watching a version of Luke’s club routine (which he mentions in Repetition, posted on Circus Geeks), filmed by Alan Plotkin. In Alan’s words, “This was the last time I filmed Luke Wilson. It was at Moisture Festival 2011 at the Vashon Island venue. I challenged him before the performance to go drop free and he nailed it.”
Unfortunately I never got to see this version live so I am almost certainly missing detail which video cannot convey. I did however see two versions of Luke’s older club routines live and Luke shared a couple of different older versions on video with me.
You can watch Luke talk briefly about his Moisture festival here:
The Moisture Festival version is my favourite of his club routines and in my opinion the most interesting and developed. It gives a clear definition of Luke’s artistic choices and yet leaves a couple of unanswered questions.
Luke stood sideways on stage looking across stage- not at the audience. He is holding 5 clubs- two clubs in his left hand, visible to the audience.
0:28 Routine starts
Places 5 clubs one at a time precisely on stage in a line, using his hands and feet. Reminiscent on Sergei Ignatov. http://juggling.tv/160
0:41 Hands in pocket, takes a moment to collect the image.
0:44 Foot lingers, almost flirtatiously around the first club
0:49 Hands out of pockets in stylised way.
1st Club kicked up. Manipulation thumb roll sequence
0:53 2nd club kicked up
0:57 3rd club kicked up – juggle walks forward and turning
1:00 Stand still – leaning into juggle run
1:04 4th club kicked up – 4 in doubles, classic fountain. Walks forward – odd feet – reaching for the remaining club
1:15 5th club kicked up
1:21 Triple into scissor catch in squat. Looks at audience.
1:26 Club down – fake drop – foot catch into 4 club routine: multiplex
4 club fast triples
4 club singles
53 iIn triple singles – turing backwards in a circle
Switch to synchronous – splits
1:59 High throw into multiplex bend back
2:02 Freeze with odd catch. Look at audience. Manipulation turn
2:10 Careful placement of balance – finger – cross armed set 3
2:14 Clubs with a balance – left-handed start – 3 chin rolls – drop into 4 – 53 chin roll turing
2:27 Pass club around body getting lower until on the foot.
2:31 Kick club causing it to roll on floor
2:34 Odd jump – pick up other club
2:35 Slow hand – look at remaining club – turn walk to it with purpose
2:43 5th club in kick up position – look at it
2:44 Kick up into multiplex pattern
2:57 Scissor catch look at audience – club still rocking gently
3:01 Stand up
3:05 Turn and throw 2 clubs away*
3:09 Almost a new person – new routine
3:13 Odd feet and club movements – puppet like – repeating patterns
Odd patterns, placements and wrist traps – odd starts and stops
linking moves, half turns
3:52 Chin roll combinations
3:57 Chin roll reverse cascade
4:06 Multi placements
4:09 Helicopter kick up – backcross combination – flat front 44strange1
4:15 Stylish 2 on a 342
4:20 Wilson 52242 wrong-end
4:22 Squat again – fast juggle – doubles with music
4:25 Fast doubles
4:27 Flats turning
4:33 High throw – Ignatov – slapbacks – half turns
4:45 Catch all 3 in right – squat – look at audience
4:52 Fake hard throw of one club
4:54 Slow 1 club slide – lego – puppetry movement style
5:09 Helicopter wrist trap kick up – Luke signature
5:44 Ends kick up sequence
5:47 Contortion cascade
5:50 Under arm trap – problem and solution
5:57 Leg catch freeze – build up tension
6:04 Triplex kick up
6:07 1 up Pirouette
6:09 Throw clubs behind him
6:24 Exit stage
Luke starts the routine standing still on stage, not looking at the audience – an interesting choice. It isn’t till a few seconds in that he looks at the audience, allowing them to take in his appearance and identity. Before that first look Luke is almost secondary to the props, the oddity in his moment and choices are clear but we don’t know how he feels about it.
The juggling begins with Luke kicking up into a 3 club cascade, he turns in a circle allowing the audience to take in this first and most classic pattern. From then on there are only a few classic juggling patterns which have been chosen for specific reasons. Most of the act consists of juggling created by the performer, something which used to be a rarity in juggling.
The first compliment (freeze) allows the audience in, before we have seen a window into his world, a taste of skill and things to come but that eye contact allows us to catch up and take Luke in. The freeze itself is an interesting position, in a sitting squat, far from a unusual ballet-influenced circus poses.
The section where Luke is continually moving and adjusting his legs, arms and clubs are a slight (but only slight) exaggeration of his OCD tendencies. Going for a coffee with Luke could be fun; moving the cutlery or various napkins off-centre would result in him subtly readjusting till everything was back to being in its rightful place, square and proper.
Watching Luke warm up every night for several months was also a chance to see how much he enjoyed systems which would be carried out pace for pace, throw for throw every night. Luke enjoyed his discipline. These puppet-esque movements sit very well with his energy on stage and yet are surprising and unusual, far from the normal movement qualities jugglers traditionally use.
The precision of placing the club into a balance on Luke’s head, is something that is common in many of his routines. Moments of careful precision that Luke was so excellent at, the weight and gravitas he gives the prop and the detail of the pinky finger out – reminiscent of a delicate tea cup which Luke was so fond of and makes for an important moment, heavily contrasting with some of the fast and complex juggling that has preceded it.
Luke runs his own version of a classic 423 kick-up using wrist traps to catch the kicked-up club (Luke help popularise wrist traps in club juggling, taken from another juggling prop – the devil stick. Luke invented many variations with wrist traps, now commonplace in contemporary juggling). This pattern is run for 33 rounds and lasts over half a minute. It’s an unusual choice of trick to run for so long.
Luke has chosen a unique trick to him, subtle in detail. It would be easy to miss the wrist trap if it were ran for only one or two rounds and it’s not a particularly difficult trick in a single repetition. As the pattern plays out the tension builds, we see Luke begin to struggle from the shear repetition and final relief when he breaks out of the loop. Repeating the pattern for so long allows the audience to take in and possibly understand the juggling and gives effective dramatic build in the act.
Luke also particularly enjoyed kick-up tricks which may also explain why he chose to repeat his 423 variation. He finishes the routine with a triplex kick-up, a trick Luke loved and is covered extensively in this video tutorial we made together in 2009.
The pirouette is the final full stop for the juggling, enforced by the dropping of the clubs**. The holding of breath as the audience begins to show it’s appreciation and the exhale of relief helps underscore how much concentration has gone into performing such a complex and well thought-out performance.
Luke was a talented magician and I can see it’s influence in the whole routine, particularly in his bow which was obviously thought out and practiced. The unbuttoning of his jacket and classic open hand position reminiscent to me of dove magician, Lance Burton as was Luke’s immaculately folded sleeves.
Luke left nothing to chance and thought out every detail of his work. Everything had been gone over with a fine comb, from the choice and variation of prop (Luke could probably have written a book on this subject) to his method of rolling up his selves.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for me to take from Luke’s work is to question every choice, be aware of every decision. Do what you believe in.
I miss Luke.
**The dropping of the clubs really confused me. When studying on my degree Luke taught lessons examining at the nature of status and how we treating our props on stage adds to the communication of how much an audience should care about what we are doing (trying not to drop in the most part).
Theories for Luke’s end throw include, it was as simple as a stylistic choice or that he got carried away after performing such a perfect routine. However both these reasons don’t fit well with me, they don’t take into account Lukes meticulous nature or his lessons on giving the props value.
For my money, the best guess comes from Jay Gilligan, he said that in one of the MRL laboratories Luke was exploring the idea of finding an ending that could not go on. Jay went onto say, “in one case his [Lukes] solution was to make an ending that was not only conceptual but also literal in the sense that he threw the clubs away from him, preventing any further contact and therefore erasing any doubt at all that he would continue.”
* At 3:05 into the act Luke turns and throws 2 clubs away. It looks slightly award and messy, if we understand the end drop then I cannot fathom this prop dump. My only attempt to grasp Luke’s choice here is that it’s a stylistic choice (or someone was supposed to take them from him?). I wish Luke was around now so I could quiz him about it.
Many thanks to Lauren Hendry, Sean Gandini, Jon Udry and Jay Gilligan for their thoughts and feedback.