Kiev – Part 2

Part 1 | Part 3

The beginning of the day

Warming up, stretching and meeting people

When I arrived in the morning I would have to shake every male’s hand, that was their culture, (would take a long time if you were last) I would also kiss the girls on the cheek but that was seen as odd at the beginning because the girls should come to you. (Oh yeh lol)

By 9 o’clock, half the school would be waiting to be let in (not like my school -The Circus Space – that’s more like 9:04, you can already start to see why they are better), when we get in everyone has their place to warm up, it’s an unwritten rule, front half – hand to hand, contortionist and jugglers, 2nd half – everyone else. The warm up was self done like everything but all anyone did was sit in box splits and talk, that’s all anyone really did. Now, I’m flat in all splits but not at 9am in -20 degrees. It would take me a good half an hour to get there, for that I was laughed at, they laughed at my inflexibility and asked if I had ever been stretched, nearly everyone there could lie on their back and have their legs on the floor in box if not by themselves with someone pushing. The best box splits I saw by a guy was a hand to hand base, extreme over splits, why? I do not know, jealousy? YES. So for the warm up, no one ran, jumped or did anything to get the blood pumping except two lads who warmed up by round off back tuck which annoyed everyone on a daily basis.

The first people to stop stretching/warming up would be the contortionists and jugglers which would be about 9:30, then the straps artists would stroll in, topless, no matter how cold it was (they were known as the crazy ones of the school). 9:30-9:45 would be the handbalancers and then finally the hand to hand pairs. It was like clockwork every day.

As we are warming up the teachers start to arrive. First at 9:15 is Yuriy Pozdnyakov the juggling teacher (also head of the school) most students would go over say good morning (most formal way possible) and shake his hand. Secondly would be all 3 hand to hand coaches all ex-sports acro world champions, ALL hand to hand students would race over, I mean race pushing each other out of the way just so they could stand at the start of the line, each teacher would come over and shake their hand – No one wanted to be at the end of the line. Then my teacher, Victold a 73 yr old man would come at 9:50 and would go to lots of students and shake their hands and give them a hug – he would say how beautiful the girls are and how strong the boys are looking, he was such a lovely teacher, wasn’t your stereotypical blunt grumpy Ukrainian.

Before I left for Kiev everyone was telling me how much I was going to cry, how much they were going to push and stretch me, but I only saw that with 2 girls, it happened everyday at the same time 10:15 one girl will start crying, 10 weeks went by and it was the same, same stretch, same time, same crying. By the end, everyone had lost their sympathy…

After the warm up and throughout the day the students would stretch each other. The main ones were:

Toe point; you would have someone stand on your feet and walk pushing with their heel into your toes.
20110604-115444.jpgKnees; they would stand in turn out on your knee joint and bounce up and down, oh, your legs are on something high so there is a gap between your legs and there floor, (this one I hate and wanted to cry every time) a perfect example of this knee and toe stretching is Pavel Stankevich.

The most outrageous stretch was the elbow; some girls would try and hyper extend their elbows. I asked why and they said Anatoly Zalievsky had told them to, well you know what; I would probably do anything he told me to do as well.

The Handbalancers

So the handbalancers were split into 2 groups. 1 group focused on contortion handstands taught by Nataliya Pozdnyakova and the other one was just handstands, with exceptions.

From what I gathered the students didn’t get to pick their discipline or their teacher, they got told what to do (very harsh If you don’t like that discipline but sometimes TCS gives its students too much freedom so I see the pros but also the cons). In the group that mainly focused on contortion, all the girls were ex rhythmic or already contortionists, I have never seen the flexibility like these girls, 1 girl had her leg on a gymnastic horse (around 3 foot high) and was flat in all splits without warming up or any pain, there teacher would make them pull their legs past the line of your hips, so when they were in a handstand there legs were in over splits behind them, this I didn’t really like, I think it’s beautiful when they have a flat line. There was one boy who was 19 (I think), from France and was a very highly skilled gymnast – he will be the next Sergei Timofeev. Every morning once the girls are stretched and warm, they would then condition 1 arm leavers on a single cane, their teacher would spot them and sometimes they would hold an ankle weight. There teacher spent a lot of time with them correcting, spotting and telling them what to do (interesting in the contrast with Victold the other Handbalancing coach) though they are different styles I would say Victold’s students were better due to their own self motivation and drive. A comparison can be with Victold’s student Artur Bezkorynny and then Nataliya’s students Sergei Timofeev and Anastasiya Mazur.

So all the girls trained 1 arm lever, 1 arm lower to croc and 1 arm gufus/figure (seen here). 20110604-115452.jpgThey were the main tricks, you started learning them on day one. Again different to Victold, his was more like; you get one trick then move on (which is like my teacher at TCS)
Theory 1 – Why do 1 arm lever if you can’t 1 arm?

Theory 2 – When you get 1 arm you are already strong enough to do 1 arm lever.

Again, I see the pros and cons.

The girls though could not jump up onto blocks or leaver and on the floor they would struggle getting into a handstand, they would go too far and fall into a bridge and then press it from there, which I thought was crazy, once they were in a handstand they were doing amazing things it was just getting in to a handstand was a problem.

One exercise I enjoyed to watch was when the girls were in scorpion and were trying to kick the feet under their armpits, they would get their feet in and then they would pop straight out, it was just funny to watch. I guess though if I tried it, it would be funnier.

There were 3 girls that I think were in 4th year. 1 girl I could watch all day training, she just had ever muscle in her body working exactly where she wanted it, every finger was in the exact place and it looked so elegant and easy for her. She would do her act on tall canes I think 4 or 5, she would do 1 arm turning and she was trying to get a full pirouette on 1 cane. She was very close at this, it was just a hit and miss trick. However when I saw her act I was a little disappointed, her movement was beautiful, her handstands were stunning but she lacked performance, fun and excitement.
I would rather watch her train than watch her piece and I think it’s such a shame but I also think that’s what makes what we do so hard, you can technically be the best but if you can’t put it into a piece it doesn’t matter. (This is only my opinion so people may disagree)

Then there was a girl who would do her act on a round table, so she would be on a flat surface doing every handstand shape you can think of. She was super strong doing planches and 1 arm lower to croc and flexible so doing all the contortion handstands, but, the interesting thing about her act is that she was doing contact juggling at the same time. So, I have seen contact jugglers draw a square with the ball when they are stood up, well she did it in a 1 arm changing positions with her legs whilst drawing a square. She would have up to four balls in her hands and rotating them all while lowering down to the floor. Then have four in both hands while balancing on her elbows. Ridiculously impressive – two extremely hard disciplines put together and both at a very high standard. Again I felt disengaged as with the other girl, something was lost when she did her act, I don’t know if it was the music and because it was all very one level and had no contrast but I just felt like we miss something and it doesn’t show off how good and how hard it is. It’s such a shame because she is so talented but again I felt her piece just lacked a spark.

The last girl would perform her act on about 24 wooden blocks; she would start on the floor and stack them all up transferring from one arm to the next changing and again doing every position you could think of. Before you have realised it she has stacked all the blocks and is at the top and she is still in a handstand about 4-5 mins later with no rest. Hardcore, especially when people don’t realise. She hops up and down the blocks, turns and just looks phenomenal and so at ease but again I feel she lacks something and I think its life, happiness and enjoyment. I know she does have all that but it doesn’t come across when she performs and it’s such a shame.

Kiev – Part 1

So, I had just graduated from The Circus Space and had been working for a few months but for a long time I had wanted to go to the circus school in Kiev. Finally I had got it all sorted but now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go because I had built up consistent work in London. I kept changing my mind until one thought prevailed; screw it this is a one in a lifetime chance to go and train a little more and learn the secret of handstands. From day one I have always heard that Kiev is the best school, from all the videos and circus festivals like Cirque Du Demain all my favourite acts (that I consider the best) come from Kiev. I wanted to know why they were so good what they were doing differently to me, what was their secret. So at the start of October I went to Kiev and trained handstands for 8 weeks.

I’ve had many people ask me about it, so this blog is about my journey, my experiences and my time in Kiev and I truly hope it will answer your questions and help you.

KievThe circus school and its surroundings

Circus Artist Hotel

I stayed in the Circus artist hotel, which was about £15 a night for me; in my room I had 3 beds and 1 wardrobe. The decor was absolutely sublime; blue painted walls that if you ran you fingers down, the paint went onto your finger tips; along with bed covers that had dolphins on (which kept you safe during the night). The kitchen had an oven which didn’t work and 3 hobs, a sink and a fridge. So we had to make a cup of coffee the old school way. The bathroom had a normal toilet and then a TUB, it was a bout 2ft by 2ft, it was tiny and not comfy or in the slightest practical to have a bath in.

Again with showing how well they have moved with technology there was no washing machine and there were no laundrettes so it was hand washing (you get very sore hands) but at least the heating was good. It was also cockroach infested, which really hindered my sleep because I have never seen cockroaches and I’m not that brave (being in a different country, not speak the language was bad enough).

The walk to the circus school

The school was a 20 minute walk from the Circus Artist hotel where I was staying; it is situated in the middle of a military training base and looked like an old derelict Olympic area. It had a football pitch surrounded by concrete seats, a sand pit for long jump, high jump and pole vault, around the edge it had the running track and also had rugby goal posts. It is very old now and has Kiev graffiti all over it and is reddened with a lot of very cute stray dogs, but it was still being used everyday either by young students running and jumping or by older lads playing football tournaments.

Then you come up to the military base, where you’ll see the police marching around, they were any age from 16 to 40 and they rule – you don’t mess with them and you get out of their way – which I learnt quickly. They have to keep the whole place tidy, digging holes for trees or digging up trees. The main chore they had to do was sweep up the leaves, it really showed how traditional Kiev still is because they swept the leaves up with a bunch of twigs bundled together. It took me a while to get used to these traditional things still in their culture, to me they seemed really contrasting to the Ferrari garage that was down the road, and the ‘super cool’ sushi restaurants that all played dance music to having no washing machine and everyone sweeping up leafs with twigs and branches.

Then there is a swimming baths, I never went in them which was odd (I had a lot of spare time) but it’s this big blue building which was always being used. Then you come up to where I was, first of all it just looks like a average sports hall, you have 5 a side football courts and male and female changing rooms and communal showers, the Ukrainians there were very homophobic but they are a lot more comfortable with getting changed, showering and talking in front of each other than people are in the UK which was very interesting (I began to realise they are all much more mature for their age). I saw that they also had fencing classes there and there was an outdoor cinema but I never saw that being used.

The School

So you then get to the circus training space which starts at 9am. Every morning all the students will be waiting outside for the doors to be opened, we tried to go in early and warm up but we would get shouted at by the cleaners who every morning vacuumed the room and washed the floor, they would also sow up the crash mats (every morning!) they were like patch works (not very reassuring!)

So the space we trained in was one massive room, it looked like an old male gymnastic room, it had a Olympic size sprung floor for FX and sports acro routines and another sprung floor half the size which wasn’t very sprung more soft floor. It had 3 sets of rings (low ones, high competition ones and a pair in the pit) which we used for muscle up competitions, conditioning and a laugh. Nearly everyone in the school could muscle up – it was a basic strength move. The gym had 3 pommel horses ranging from on the floor to competition height, one mushroom into the floor which most people could do 1 double leg circle and bail, 4 parallel bars: 2 about 4 foot high and then one at competition height and one beside the pit, which ended up getting kicked and punch by the handbalancers, then 3 high bars: 2 in the pit and 1 low one on the floor which was used so all students learnt Split leg rotation/mill circle and up start and finally a tumble track running into the pit that really wasn’t that sprung just soft.

At times it was warmer outside than it was inside the training space, me and the other handbancers sometimes wore gloves to train in and lots of layers but you always got the odd guy still walking round topless, generally the straps boys they were known as the crazy ones. The windows were not double glazing and they had been broken, usually from the jugglers throwing their juggling balls in anger. We commonly had little birds flying around and trying to find out how to get back out, the lights and heating only came on when it was really cold and dark because of cost but also the lights got broken a few times – again from jugglers getting angry. There are ceiling rafters which all the circus equipment was hung onto which would never happen in the UK due to health and safety but also the jugglers would climb up the walls and walk along it about 30 ft high and place a ball up there just so they could try knocking it off with another juggling ball from the floor, again something that wouldn’t be allowed here in the UK, safety safety safety.

From what I gathered circus was in 9-1 which was students and professionals, after us was professional time and then sports acro but they sometimes trained with us, Shcherbak and Popov were sometimes there when we were but mainly after or before. On a Saturday younger boys about 8-12 would come and train from 12 doing gymnastics, they would always come early so they could throw them self into the pit before their coach came.

One last thing about the space, the toilets are just a hole in the floor, you didn’t really go for many number twos there.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 10

This is the tenth post in a series where I set out to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Ten:

Get More (Corporate) Gigs

Circus has always had strong links with marketing, if you don’t promote your show/act/you well enough then you don’t eat. One of the greatest marketeers of all time  P. T. Barnum, was a circus proprietor who mastered the art of how to grab attention, create a buzz and sell a show.

I understand why so many circus artists shy away or despise ‘selling themselves’. To do it well you do need to be brave, go out on a limb and invest time and energy. If you really have no interest in marketing then get someone else to do it for you. But understanding the basic concepts behind marketing is important to any artists whether you plan on creating the next Cirque Du Soleil or not.

This is why I’m recommending you sign up for the free trial of GMCG, it gives you some great starting points and some basic principals. The course is delivered by Barry Friedman, a real expert in this field.

The name may be familiar to some of you as Barry has been performing half of the legendary double act, The Raspini brothers for over twenty years. Without a doubt one of the most original, funny and financially successful juggling acts around. So well respected in their field they were asked to give their own TED talk (now a personal goal of mine).

So when I found out about Barry’s online marketing course it was a no brainer to join up.

I loved doing the online course, learnt so much about my own approach to marketing, work and life. I’ve improved my business and continue to read and occasionally post in the forum which provides excellent feedback and support to your efforts in a really positive community of performers. Every week I revisit one of the lessons and see how I can make improvements on my work.

I would recommend GMCG to anyone who has the drive to make their business better. It does centre around the US corporate sector but the underlying lessons can be applied to any market your interested in; from writing proposals for funding to selling your shows to theatres.

I know the full course is not going to be everyones cup of tea but you can get a taster with the free 7 day training course. Even the information from this freebie could transform your marketing approach and I’m sure some of you will see the benefits in signing up to the full course.

Sign up for your free 7-day training course here.

Oh and incase you’re wondering, I’m not on commission or anything like that, it’s just a service I think is really useful.

If you do sign up let me know your thoughts!

I’ve always been interested in business and marketing but since doing the course I’ve become more passionate about these subjects. I want to learn more about selling shows and building websites, so perhaps drop me an e-mail if you have an interesting project you think I could help with.!/CircusGeeks/status/68270412898910208

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 9

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Nine: Open Office

Save yourself a large chunk of cash by legally downloading and installing a pice of software that could replace an App that would easily costs £100+

Open Office is an open-source application suite whose main components are for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases.Wikipedia

In other words it’s Word/Office/Excell/Powerpoint/Pages/Numbers etc. for free!

Gone are the days when Open Office would crash on you for no reason, reformat a project and make you want to break down into tears of frustration. It’s now a stable App that can compete with the big boys on features, help you with a great online support community & trouble shooting site and can’t be beaten on price.

This tip a real money saver, take advantage of it. Download it now, get used to it so when you next buy a computer you won’t feel compelled to spend on a piece of software that you can basically get for free!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 8

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Eight: WordPress
Wordpress.orgEven though we are in the age of social media I think it’s still a good idea to have a website.

There’s a lot to be said about outsourcing web-design to a professional but if you’re not ready to spend large sums of cash on a site or you’re willing to invest some time and energy sat at a computer then look no further than WordPress.

WordPress is “A semantic personal publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability.” In other words it’s a simple and elegant way to easily create a highly customisable website that you can edit on any computer, smart phone or digital tablet with an internet connection.

Something to be aware of is that there is and The .com is 100% free but your are limited with the design and other details. The software for is free however you will need to pay for hosting and a url, there are 100s of companies that provide this, you’re probably looking at about £50-100 a year, not exactly mega bucks. For the record I use Fasthoasts. You may also want to pay for a template (this gives the look of the site) which can cost from £10-£50 as a one off fee although there are some free usable templates out there.

Read here, here and here if you’re thinking about making your own site using WordPress.

Otherwise you can find someone to implement a site for you at a much cheaper price than you would pay for a design from scratch (I offer this, send me an e-mail).

If you make you’re own site using WordPress be sure to leave a link in the comments!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 7

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number seven: Use YouTube

When YouTube started to attract attention less than six years ago I was skeptical, even a little fearful. I made a video in early 2006 which was uploaded to YouTube and attracted 70,000 views and was featured on the home page, all within 4 days and without my knowledge (and most importantly) my permission.

But 5 years later and I’m a total YouTube convert. It’s quickly become the industry standard for sharing work with agents and clients, replacing DVD as arguably the best way to share your work.

There is a great feature you might not be aware of, setting your video as unlisted. This means the video can’t be found by anyone who does not know the url which you can distribute as wish.

You can rename the title of the video once it’s uploaded os get rid of that ugly ‘whateveryourtitleis’.mp4 extension!

For promo videos it’s best to have your url link in the first line of the description with the full http:// included so it becomes an active hyperlink to your site.

Read more YouTube tips here.

Also worth remembering is jTV, a site setup for juggling videos but also contains some great historical circus videos.



Juggling Slang Lexicon


Written by Erik Åberg.

In the recent years I have noticed quite a bit of slang being used in the juggling community. This is an attempt to explain some of it. 

Oldschool – Classical juggling, or something done or presented in a classical way, sometimes also with an undertext that somthing is solid and tested out, proved quality

”Jönssons act is oldschool.”

Newschool – Modern techniques and ideas. In some cases it could refer to bold or risky

”I went to the Polish Convention and there was actually quite alot of newschool shit happening over there.”

Bookwork – Fundamental juggling technique practiced in a correct way. Taking juggling or practice very seriously

”When I started juggling I practiced quite alot but I wish I had done more bookwork.” 

”One positive thing about the WJF is that it makes atleast some kids do more bookwork.”

2-count – To speed something up when someone´s slow,

”Come on Elias, 2 count for fucks sake!”

4-count – To slow down

”Hey, 4-count alittle will you”

IJA – What you´d expect, alittle boring, same as always.

”Did you see the new Indiana Jones movie? Yeah, it was kinda IJA”

Chris passe passe – Not paying attention. Rather do other stuff then what is there or going on. often reffered to audiences, when things are happing in the audience that takes focus away from the show. In some cases it can refer to getting laid or upsetting brittish people.

”You know I was trying to get my street show going but the damn audience was totally Chris passe passe all the time! It was so hard to get the focus!”

Can also be used to someone who was fucking around with something else when they should have paid attention

”You forgot the carkeys? I told you several times to remember them! I told you in the kitchen when you were totally Chris passe passe so I even reminded you after we had breakfast!”

”Elias, don´t be so Chris passe passe, get off the computer, stop cubing and listen to what I have to say!”

”I watched the news but I was pretty Chris passe passe during the weather report since I know I´m gonna be inside doing bookwork all week”

”Slusklund is so happy today, he must have been Chris passe passe last night or something”

Joggling&WJF – Waste of time, kill time

”My flight was late so I was pretty much joggling&WJF in the airport for 3 hours”

”I filled the form in really carefully, then Slusklund spilled his coffee over it so everything I had done was joggling&WJF.” 

”We still need to do joggling&WJF for another hour before the movie starts.”

Russian – Not drop, doing a dropless show

”How did last nights show go? 

Really great, I was totally russian.”

Spanish – Dropping alot. But can also refer to juggling just for fun, for pleasure or for relaxation. In some cases also refering to smoking weed, drinking or chilling out. Not knowing what you´re talking about.

”How´d the show go? 

I was kinda spanish in the beginning but then it was OK”

”Usually my 5 ball pirouette is russian but today it was pretty  spanish”

”Did Slusklund come by practice today? 

Yeah, but he was totally pissed off, called us a bunch of bookwork jerks and said he was gonna go somewhere else and get spanish”

”Jason Garfield thinks he´s bookwork but then you see the siteswap written in the WJF rules and they´re totally spanish so I´m kind of Chris passe passe about that whole thing”

”The situation in Northern Ireland used to be pretty Chris passe passe with the IRA and all, but in the recent years it´s been kinda spanish.”

German – Overly obvious, in a bit stupid way so it´s easy to understand, like wearing a Zorro costume and juggling fencing swords. Could also refer to overly clear juggling in the vein of doing the box to the sound of a clock going ”tic-toc-tic-toc-tic-toc”. Using UV-costumes, UV-props, or lit up props. Doing what someone would expect to see in a show for kids in a shopping mall, but not neccessarily in a negative way. Sometimes also opposite to being french.

”His act is solid and german all the way, he could perform it to sheep and they´d get it”

”My act didn´t really suit that stage, I could totally feel the audience going Chris passe passe. I really need to make it more german if I´m gonna perform places like that.”

French – Alot of  strange stuff going on aside of the juggling, trying to be deep, a bit pretentious or theatrical, using the clothes to become an animal, screaming, dancing or jumping around.

”That show was fucking french.”

Mexican – Juggling fast!

”The beginning of the act was pretty slow but towards the end when the music kicked in it went totally mexican.”

Japanese – Stuff you haven´t seen before, exotic, fresh

”Did you see Slusklunds new club routine? It´s japanese as hell!”

Sushi tricks – New tricks, fresh material, unknown techniques, similar to japanese

”Have you seen Sluskes new club routine? Yeah it was pretty IJA but he´s got a few sushi tricks in there.”

”You saw that french guy at the open stage? He had a few sushi tricks but he´s gotta do more bookwork, it was kinda spanish.”

Adding wasabi – Spice things up, take an idea further, go further out

”I´m kinda happy about my new ball routine but I just need to work on it more and add some wasabi.”

”How´s Wes doing in circus school? He´s allright but he´s gotta add some more wasabi to his research.”

Ninja – Someone that moves well

”He´s juggling technique isn´t so strong but he´s a total ninja. Coupla years of bookwork and he´s gonna be really good.”

Ninjutsu – Dance or dance classes

”When I get into circus school I am planning to do plenty of bookwork plus alot of ninjutsu aswell”

Gatto blood – Someone who´s got solid, high level, classical, oldschool tricks like backcrosses, pirouettes or numbers or potential to become like so. Can be used as ”being Gatto blood” or ”having Gatto blood”

”Did you see Putte´s new routine? 

Yeah, he´s got a few sushi tricks in there plus he´s got plenty of Gatto blood” 

”Do you know Bobbo from Östersund in the north of Sweden? He´s the Gatto blood up there”

Engineering – Manipulation

”I saw this Belgian dude Sander, he´s got some mad engineering skills!”

”Half of my practice session I spend on bookwork but the rest of it is pretty much engineering.” 

”Sluske doesn´t give a fuck about getting Gatto blood, he´s only into engineering these days.”

Engineer – Someone who does manipulation

”He ain´t got much Gatto blood but he´s a pretty decent engineer”

Examples of combinations

Spanish engineering – Droppy manipulation, chilled out manipulation

Japanese engineering – New manipulation not seen before

French engineering – Wierd manipulation probably not so juggling related

”At the end of the act there was some french engineering going on; he put one club up his ass and 2 in his mouth and imitated a moose or something like that.”

Mexican engineering – Fast manipulation

”Did you see Masaki Hiranos 3 ball stuff?  Mexican engeneering”

Chris passe passe in Germany – Not paying attention to something that is REALLY obvious. Being completely up in the blue, close to retarded.

”How on earth could you miss that? Are you Chris passe passe in Germany or something?”

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 6

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number six: Send large files

Although e-mail storage has increased massively over the past 10 years sending large files with a standard e-mail provider (GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo)  can still be an issue. This is where Dropbox or YouSendIt come in handy. Both allow you to upload large files and send an e-mail to your recipient which will give a private link to the file. Both are free but charge for premium services (which I have never needed).

Do you know of any better methods or services to send large attachments? Then please leave a comment!

Warming up

Just like athletes or actors, circus performers warm up before a performance. While a warm up may not prevent injury as many think, it can be helpful to refresh the skill set and frame of mind before one steps out on stage.

Having said that, is it a good idea to run your routine in full before your show, should you touch base with the skills or should you do something completely different?

When on a 4 month contract (all the performances were in the same venue), I charted the number of technical mistakes (drops, being behind on cues etc.). For two weeks I did my act on stage before the show, for 2 weeks I did some of the skills in the act before hand, for 2 weeks I warmed up with something completely different and for 2 weeks I did no warm up.

I found despite the warm up method there was negligible difference on my technical performance on stage. It’s hard to be objective as to how well the act was performed but I do feel that the two weeks where I did no warm up were a little harder for me in terms of performing and connecting with the audience. Therefore personally speaking there is little difference in the out come of warming method but it is preferable to do some kind of warm up.

From a phycological point of view I prefer to warm up with a little of the skills I use on stage and then move onto something completely different. For instance in my act I don’t juggle balls so I like warming up with a few short runs of 5 balls, maybe 30-60 seconds. This is enough to relax me, make me think about my posture and enjoy the pattern. I don’t do anything hard as I want to keep drops out of my head and keep my confidence levels up.

I know some artists who like to run their routine in full, others like to run their routine in revers while some like doing each trick 10 times clean. For me this is too much but if it works for you then great. One thing to consider when devising your own warm up methods is where are you going to do this warm up at your gig? I can do mine in a dressing room or in a corridor, anywhere really. It’s worth coming up with a warm up that can fit into a stairwell or other relatively small places that you find backstage as few venues have good warm up facilities.

One specific thing I would recommend is balancing an object on your face, doesn’t mater if you’re a juggler, acrobat, aerialists, actor, dancer or snake charmer. Once learnt, it takes up no room and is very reliable. With in 15 seconds you become still, focused, increased spacial awareness and reminded of your posture.

I would recommend coming up with your warm up plan and then test it out a few times. Get up early, go into your warm up and then do your full routine. If it worked out then great, if not, you either need to change your warm up or make your routine easier.

This is all fairly personal but through planing and testing you can come up with a warm up that will give you the best chances of nailing your perfect show.

Good luck!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 5

The fifth instalment to the series which aims to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Five: Use an electronic calendar

There is something brilliant about a Moleskine pocket calendar but times are a changing and using the calendar on your smart phone and desktop is the way to go.

It’s fine to keep a handwritten diary, there are some advantages but my suggestion would be to fill the information into a digital back up. If you lose a pocket calendar then you could be in real trouble.

If you lose a phone with your digital calendar then at least you have your backup on your home computer and online (if you have set it ip to sync!). If you don’t know how to do this then have a look here. I’d recommend Google calendar as it’s free and works across most platforms, Mac or PC, iPhone or Android etc.

The great thing about a digital calendar is you can setup reminders. Set alarms and text messages to go off at any point of your choosing before an event. Say you want a 1 week, 3 day, 1 day and half an hours notice before a meeting, you can easily set up a message to appear on you phone or computer to do this.

If you use this system correctly you should never forget about an appointment again! Learn how to do this with your Google calendar here.

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

The Technique IS the Character

I was talking recently with someone who is working on creating a new juggling act, and they mentioned that they wanted said new act to contain more “character”, and that they wanted to include more stops and pauses: for the purpose of showing that “character”.

Almost as recently, upon introducing myself to a fellow circus performer they asked me what “theme” my juggling act had. My reply of “juggling” left them nonplussed.

Having had to pick my jaw up from the floor on each of these occasions, I realised I could perhaps usefully try (for myself if no-one else) to form my thoughts into some kind of clarity on this matter.

The year is 2011. It was over 30 years ago that nouveau cirque made a clear and, surely at that time, necessary statement about the break they were making from non-nouveau cirque. But I sincerely hope that we are far enough now with the circus arts and their development to understand that we don’t have to justify our time on stage by claiming it to be circus “with theatre”, or “with dance”, or “without horses”. Or “with value added character”. Circus is circus, and it’s practitioners are circus artists.

If we are using the circus arts (circus techniques, as in skills and tricks) to express ourselves, then we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to show them some respect and to create and show work where that technique set is needed. Needed means not added on as a bonus but rather integral to, and defining of, the work. The technique should be a necessity of the performance (and perhaps also the other way round, but that is perhaps a topic for another time).

If technique is integral (which to me is a backbone of circus performance), then technique has a lot of responsibility. It is the major means we have to communicate our intent. I shall repeat that more clearly (and to really stress it, I shall do so by manually re-typing it, rather than using copy and paste): technique is the major tool that we have to communicate our intent.

That doesn’t mean that it should subsume the intent, but that it serves the intent.

If our intention includes the need to create a particular “character” (be that character one of pop-star, ninja, sailor or, dare we even say it, JUGGLER), then I hope it is clear that, although costuming and make-up, or staging and light, are important and valuable factors in our constructs, it is TECHNIQUE that must take the lead. We should innovate in our technique, believe in it, and shouldn’t be scared to trust it to tell an audience more about our intentions and emotional content then any other factor.

After all, love of technique is what drove us in the first place to learn this craft, and I hope that that same love is a factor in keeping us in this crazy, impossible, beautiful, painful, ghastly, inspiring, incredible life that we may call our job.

Innovate your technique: create the right trick for the right moment.

Trust in your tools: and let an audience share that trust.

And always remember: the technique IS the character.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 4

The fourth instalment to the series which aims to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier. This tip should keep you inspired.

Tip Number Four: Watch TED talks.

TEDI became aware of TED talks in 2007 and ever since I’ve been hooked.

TED is a non profit organisation set up to spread interesting ideas. Originally focusing on Technology Education Design (TED), but now encompassing a vast range of subjects, everything from horse puppetry to the future of wireless medicine.

You can read more about TED here.

I think it’s worth stopping for a second and taking note of the amazing value of the internet. We are now lucky enough to able to watch and listen to some of the most knowledgeable experts from around the globe talk about their most cutting edge and exciting work and ideas, all from and comfort of our own home, for free. It’s an example of the internet at it’s greatest.

Some of the TED talks have entertained me, informed me, challenged my opinion, inspired me and even moved me to tears. The best have all at once.

My challenge to you is to watch a TED video a week. It will make you a better artist and more importantly, a better human.

Here are a couple to start you on your way…

If you you find any inspiring TED talks be sure to share them with us, particularly if they are circus related! As ever, if you have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 3

The third instalment to the series which aims to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Three: Keep Your Inbox Empty

Having a job where you have to travel all the time can make staying on top of the inbox a bit of a hassle. I use a technique taught in the book ‘Upgrade Your Life’ by Gina Trapani. The method is simple.

Create an ‘Archive’ folder and remove the 1000s of old e-mails from your inbox and move them into the ‘Archive’ folder.

Next create two new folders called ‘Hold’ and ‘Follow Up’.

Now as soon as an e-mail comes into your inbox read it. Judge how long it will take to respond to the message.

  • If it will take less than 1 minuet or is really urgent deal with it then and there. Then move it into either your ‘Archive’ or ‘Hold’ folder.
  • If it’s going to take longer than 1 minuet move it into your ‘ Follow Up’ folder.
  • If it’s an important message that you are going to use in the next few days move it to the ‘Hold’ folder.

Do not leave e-mails in your inbox.

Put any follow up e-mails on your todo list, do not let them linger in your ‘Follow Up’ folder unanswered for more than a few hours. Empty your ‘Follow Up’ folder a three or four times a day.

Empty your ‘Hold’ folder once a week.

If you stick to this method you should become quicker at responding, more organised and feel less intimidated by your e-mail.

If you use a smart phone (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry etc.) then you can probably use push notification with your e-mail account. This basically means e-mails arrive on your phone as soon as they have be sent so you can keep up message by message. The only thing to bear in mind about push e-mail is that it can eat up your battery.

If you want to learn how to set up push e-mail on your phone then I suggest googling ‘push email <the brand of your phone> <the name of your email provider>’. For instance ‘push email iphone hotmail’.

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 2

This is the second in a series of posts aiming to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Two: Signup to Twitter.

There are still so few circus artists using Twitter, this is changing but I hope I can convince you to sign up today.

People often ask, “What is it? What’s the point? How can it help? Isn’t it a total waste of time?”. Watch the video below and read the Twitter FAQ.

Basically the more circus people that are on Twitter the more useful it becomes, the more connected we all our, the more experience we can share and the better informed we all get, creating better work. This will increase the interest and eventually demand in circus which in turn means there are more jobs for us all. Sounds a bit hippyish but it actually makes perfect sense.

If you don’t know who to follow (receive updates from) @CircusGeeks has a lists of circus artists, venues, employers and our very own bloggers on Twitter. You can just chose to follow our lists and you don’t have to go searing around for hours on end. If you want to be included on our lists just send us a tweet (message via twitter).

Still not convinced? Get an account and follow our lists, you don’t have to tweet but I bet something will pop up that sparks off your interest and before you know it you will be addicted!

Just don’t get too carried away with it all and avoid making embarrassing mistakes.

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below or better still tweet at us!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 1

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number one: Use RSS Feeds.

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’, you will probably recognize the logo as it’s on most websites. Basically it’s a neat way of reading all of your favorite websites news from one convenient place. Meaning you don’t have to waste time checking each site individually. I’d recommend using the Google Reader as it’s simple and will work with 3rd party Apps on iPhone, iPad, Android phones etc.

You can learn more about RSS in general here and watch this video about Google Reader…

Once you’ve set up an account be sure to add our RSS feed to your list!

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Prop Stands

After my prop building post I thought it might be nice to look at prop stands in the context of juggling routines, they are often over looked but can dramatically change the structure of an act.

I thought it might be interesting to analysis some routines to see what kind of prop stand they use and note some of the positive and negative aspects of their stand. If you know of any interesting examples or points don’t forget to add a comment below.

Before I get too deep on this subject it’s probably best to define what a prop stand is. I’m defining it as an object created for the purpose of holding a performers props, allowing them to quickly or elegantly transition from one prop to another. Fairly simplistic but I think it’s a workable definition.

So first up I’d like to look at Donald Grant’s diabolo act.

I love this act; it’s well choreographed and full of character, one of my favorites. In the act Mr. Grant transitions from using one diabolo to two. His prop stand is either the floor or sometimes an assistant brining on the second diabolo. It works because it’s simple, it doesn’t distract from the performer and gives him a quick transition from one piece to another. The drawback is should you have an act with more props, the stage could become unworkable and if the stage is not level then it could easily cause problems.

Having said that a few months ago Jay Gilligan and Wes Peden released a video called “More Fun Than Visiting a Zoo Volume 2 – Instant Prop Stand” in which they explore the concept of using the props themselves as the prop stands.

The set up required for some of the tricks is slightly mind blowing but besides the practicality it produces some very nice and original work. You can buy the full video download here (and no I’m not on commission!).

Kris Kremo is another favourite of mine so let’s have a look at his work with regards to prop stands.

Kris uses more props than Donald but works around the problem by having his props on a convenient table or ledge usually off stage. This way Kremo avoids having a distracting prop stand on stage, he also doesn’t have to worry about having his prop stand set correctly. The only draw back is he must exit the stage momentarily to change props. However this also helps in the structure of the routine, for a moment the audience doesn’t know if he will return to continue or take his final applause. It’s interesting to note in this fascinating interview with Kris Kremo he mentions his farther, Bela Kremo who taught him much of the act. According to Kris, Bela liked to use a chair as a prop stand because (like the props in his routine) it was an everyday object that the audience was familiar with.

Gandini Juggling, who I occasionally work for, use many different props and have simple methods to store their often large number of props on stage.

For standard small balls they have simple buckets which stop balls rolling about the stage. The only draw back is that it’s difficult for more than 2 performers to access the balls at once. The Gandini glow club stand solution is extremely elegant, the props and stand are displayed to the audience rather then hidden away and are particularly atheistically pleasing. I think this is a great example where the prop stand adds to the routine rather than distracts from it. On a practical note the only downside I know of is that they weigh a fair amount and do not fold down.

Dieto another gentleman juggler that has a particularly interesting prop stand. Parts unfold revealing small characters presenting props, very unusual and well crafted. I like that a visit to the prop stand is as entertaining as the juggling and manipulation (which I also really like). Some people will say it’s too gimmicky but personally I love this act and would love to have a prop stand as equally as eccentric!

The god father of technical club juggling, Alexander Kiss had some amazing tricks and some very impressive props that bordered on the line of prop stands. My favorite of his was a device which fired clubs into the air (he then perform a trick which has become a measuring stick for many of today’s jugglers; 5 club backcrosses). The magical quality in which he is given his clubs makes you question if he is also just some kind of ingenious machine built in one of the circus workshops behind the Iron curtain in the 1950s that surely existed. Given the tricks that he and his sister (Violetta) performed I would not be massively surprised to find out they were both robots.

Evgeni Biljaure (Or Ewgenie/Evgenie Biljaueis depending where you look on the net) is another juggler who pushed the limits of what was thought was possible. 2 ball head bouncing, 5 club forward rolls, 7 rings with a balance, an amazing juggler. In his routine props were thrown to him from all different directions, props flew in from all around the ring. This kept the audience guessing, used the space well and kept the energy of the act up. The only downside to using faceless assistants is you have to trust that the ring boys are paying attention to your act and waiting for their cues, otherwise you might be waiting for that 3rd ball for an awfully long time!

Bert Garden a comedic gentleman juggler, has a automated moving case that appears to interact with him. At one point Garden is even handed a ball from an arm that protrudes from the case in a comical manor. I’d say the main draw back with this particular prop stand is that the performer has to bend over each time to get a new prop. Bending over looks a little unsightly and doesn’t seem to fit well with the character of a gentleman. However I like the idea of the prop stand having a mind of it’s own, it reminds me of ‘The Luggage’ from the marvelous Disk World novels by Terry Pratchett.

More recently Christoph Rummel uses a club firing device in one of his routines. Interesting to have the workings of the device on display, it seems more robotic and less magical, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’d say there is still so a lot of potential in using prop stands in creative ways but building interesting stands can be tricky. If you’d like to learn more perhaps reading this article about implementing a propstand into a routine written by the brilliant Steven Ragatz over a IJDB is a good place to start.!/CircusGeeks/status/55931704212324352

The Importance of Being Selfish

I have been lucky in recent times to be able to work as a teacher/director in disciplines outside of just juggling. Amongst other projects, a few months ago I lectured on creativity and lead a workshop at a meeting of hand-to-hand acrobats in Stockholm, and even more recently I directed my favourite aerialist Petra Lange’s latest dance/acrobatics act.

And less far from my usual comfort zone, for his last two complete evening show productions, I have been listed on Ken Bardowicks‘ posters as “Magical Advisor”. Part creator, part director, part magician and part spectator. It can, and mostly does, jump from the most crazy brainstorming of impossible sounding effects, to the solving of the most banal of problems. Pulling techniques and methods from classic turn of the century sources, or as new as anything being thought of today, and finding solutions and workarounds to weak-points and logical inconsistencies.

And although it is by definition a work together, I am more than happy to acknowledge the purely selfish advantages that it brings to me.

More than anything in my own work, be it magic or juggling, I strive to create material that I personally would like to see performed. The reason I create is to fill a gap: a gap that should contain that which I want to see. I am certainly not alone with this approach to my art, with a pedigree of such people as the film director Tim Burton, or the juggler Jay Gilligan, to back up this standpoint. At the very least, there will be one happy person when I perform my work (me!). And as I do believe that we (the human race) as people have very similar needs and desires, so there is a reasonable chance that what makes me happy, will also make others happy. My contributions as Magical Advisor, or director to other disciplines within the performing arts, is an obvious extension of this selfish desire.

Through my work with Ken and others, I suddenly have so many more possibilities to see that which I want to see performed! No longer does my own technique set or performance outlets have to limit what I can see on stage! I can suggest ideas, and someone else will do them for me! A killer routine that I would be too lazy to do the set-up for every day? A beautiful effect that I could never build the apparatus for? No problem! And although sometimes the work is more about detailed corrections and choreographies, the excitement of seeing those wonderful effects that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see is what keeps the excitement present in our continuing working relationship.

In any relationship, compromises are necessary. Sometimes one must back off from purely personal desires or needs. And in this one specifically, it is Ken’s work, the effects, the show, that are the clear priority. Sometimes (but rarely) we search for solutions to something that doesn’t stir me in a particularly emotional manner, but most of the time, what I take is worth at least that which I can give. And sometimes it is good to remember to be selfish.!/cubecheat/status/55743767499640832


I am currently in Seattle, USA, doing shows at the Moisture Festival:

It is thusly named because of the rain… They didn’t lie to me.

In my big collection of VHS tapes back home are held many performers who appeared on the Paul Daniels Magic Show in the 80s and 90s. Two of the most inspirational performers to me from that era, and from those tapes, are Johnny Fox (sword-swallower) and Frank Olivier (juggler).

I doubt I would be doing this job if it weren’t for them. Really.

Last week, I held Johnny Fox’s hand in the curtain call, and last night a slightly drunk Frank Olivier jumped on a pull up bar and wrapped his legs around me.

Give me a moment, I am tearing up a little…

OK, I’m back…

Just before the show with Johnny, I was pacing around as usual, with my clubs in my hands. He asked me if he could check them out. Somehow, I managed to say “no”. Of course, he understood, and watching his prep, he clearly understands rituals and habits, but still…

I hate it when people ask to touch my clubs.

Although not uniquely custom built to my body and needs, ordering a 95mm, standard length, hard bodied, non-wrapped, extra light club in the colour of my choice (probably white) from Renegade gives me a good amount of personal connection to the club. I know the people who build them, and I have visited the small workshop where they are born.

I always do my final backstage warm-up with the clubs that I will use on stage. They need to get focused and ready too. It is their responsibility to make my juggling look good. Their weight keeps me slow and calm, and their solidity gives me one certain thing to keep hold of during my time on stage. Different stages have different heights, different lights, different floors. Even different audiences. But one thing is always the same: the clubs that come on stage with me.

I was working in the Krystallpalast Varieté in Leipzig, Germany, on the night of December 31st, 2003. Just after midnight, a fire broke out on stage. My partner at the time, Ilka Licht, was one of the first to see the flames, and, as audience and artists started to run from the burning theatre, she ran instead in the opposite direction, backstage, to grab our club bag. A little later the two of us and our clubs stood safely in the cold watching the smoking building. It never occurred to us that she perhaps shouldn’t have taken that risk…!/cubecheat/status/55025807067844608

Top 10 tips for touring.

1. Take a technician.

When you first make a show, you obviously want to keep cost to a minimum, so will obviously decide to do the tech yourselves. Don’t. It’s a nightmare. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, that you’re not going make a text heavy show, where every cue is a line in the script. So if the cue is “when I land a Juan-Qui” or “when I move my hand like this,” you’re gonna end up with wrong cues all over the shop, and a rubbish show.

Get a good lighting & sound designer, get them to put together a tech sheet which you send ahead to all venues, as well as “the book” for your touring tech with all the cues, levels etc. Make sure your touring tech calls ahead a week or so before you arrive to check the venue has everything you need.

Make sure you get on with them. You’re gonna spend a lot of time together, some of it very stressful, and we all mess up sometimes.

2. Take power naps

If your show has a get-in before midday, and you’re tour has a fair few dates (say, over 10), you’re going to end up knackered, especially if you’re doing the driving as well. If you get any chance for a kip during the day, take it.

3. Don’t scrimp on accommodation

It’s far better to spend a few extra quid on a B&B near the venue than to try and get a crap one in the middle of nowhere where 4 people have a share a room. Also, avoid nipping back home to sleep inbetween consecutive days performances. Ie. Home is in Hackney. Don’t do Newbury, Bristol, Newport and Reading over 4 nights, punctuated by epic journeys across the M4 and Euston Rd each night to cut costs. It’s more fun to cut off your arm.
(Lauren’s addition: The cheap crap B&Bs always have the best stories attached, even if it’s traumatic at the time. I’m willing to take a few of these, even if just to tell the grandkids. In Peterborough, we paid £39 to three of us to stay in what was essentially a self-storage unit for people. It was in an industrial park, and there was a code to enter the room, rather than a key. Then you had to step over a little barrier to get in. When the delivery guy came with our take-away, he wished us luck. Giles’ single bed was above our double, which you barely had room to step around. I love it. Afterwards.)

4. Use a tour-booker

Ours takes 12.5%. She checks our contracts, chases up our fees and sells us way better that we’d sell ourselves. Trust us, they’re worth every penny.
(Lauren: Especially if you’re employing a tech or other performers, you’ll want a tour with dates close together in dates as well as geographically, and it’s just a pain if you’re trying to do that, whilst forming new relationships with a load of venues.)

5. Be nice to in-house technicians (and all other venue staff)

It makes the day more pleasant, and often they’ll be the only person who has contact with you from the venue. So if you want to go back…

6. Try to squeeze in salad and healthy food.

It’s easy to live on a diet of shit food. There are lots of motorways, and after your get-out, you’ll be lucky if MacDonalds is still open. You inevitably end up feeling tired and fat. If you see a salad or a pulse, eat it!

7. Be patient

Touring is intense. Personalities can clash and tempers can run high. Hopefully it’s because you all care about what you do. Breath and count to ten.

8. Let people do their jobs

Lighting designers, directors, technicians, marketing managers and programmers usually know their jobs better than you do. If they don’t, then let them find it out for themselves.

9. Include as many post-show talks as possible

You will embed you yourselves in the venue and really give the audience that little bit extra. They’re also fun, and the venue will usually give you and your team a free drink. Just make sure you don’t have a 4 hour drive to go, and a 9am get-in the following day, or your tech will be looking at their watch!

10. Work hard and be modest

Do your job well, perform well and don’t go around acting like you’re better than anyone else. Because you’re not. Touring is very, very hard work. It is also immensely satisfying. Definitely the most satisfying part of our job. Just remember that as you’re driving down the M1 at 1am, eating a soggy MacDonalds, because it’s the only thing that’s open.

10.5- Don’t discount the little venues, or village halls. They’re the best!

Juggling vs. Magic

The first section of this essay (the actual Juggling vs. Magic part) is basically an expansion of a post from the internet newsgroup rec.juggling (if you can’t plagiarise yourself, then who can you?): the original thread is here: . I feel I am further with my understanding of my viewpoint now, and with my reasons for keeping these elements separate in my own work, and thus it seemed like the right time to revisit this theme.

I will be making use of the phrase “hobby” magician or juggler, and I mean no offense with that. It is simply a useful definition (at least for me) of non-performer. I loved it back in the day when I was a hobby juggler and magician…
When I was 11 I bought my first magic book.

When I was 14 a juggling book followed.

I recently spent time (Mid-March 2011) in Rotterdam working with a juggler who is creating a new act combining magic and juggling. And this is something which I have worked on with a couple of different people, and at a couple of different times.

Yet all this time, I have refused to create myself an act which combines these 2 artforms.

I am often asked about the idea of juggling vs. magic, and to begin with, I wonder why this question is so often asked. Why juggling vs. magic? Why not juggling vs. trapeze? Or magic vs. opera? Of course, the connection has always been there historically, starting from the jongleurs of the middle ages; but the fact that this question is often asked I think implies some other things. Firstly, that the “magic” in question is in the direction of manipulation and skill-based magic, and also, that there is perhaps some crossover in the kind of person who appreciates practicing these skills. What I mean is, we are basing this topic on skill-based magic, rather than illusions.

A starting point to me seems to be the question I occasionally hear of “why are there more famous magicians than jugglers?”. Well, the famous magicians of old were famous because of their stage shows. And later, for their TV specials (and television of course enabled magic shows to move away from the big old illusion shows, because even small effects can be shown clearly). Add to this the pure strength of the emotional impact of magic, and that generally one can quickly create more material in a shorter time, and we have a pretty simple answer as to why jugglers are less famous than magicians. And also as to why trapeze artists or dog-trainers are less famous than magicians…

I mentioned emotional impact, and although I love juggling more than magic, I have to say that the emotional content which is possible with magic is something that makes it far stronger and more accessible to an audience. I do believe that the strength of genuine emotional contact through magical bafflement can not be reached by juggling. I would go so far as to say that even acrobats and trapeze artists can reach that better than us jugglers can. All a pretty girl has to do is to fall halfway down a rope for the whole of the audience to gasp and miss a breath. It is incredibly difficult to reach that level with juggling, and I can think of no single act that can consistantly get that kind of reaction with any audience. With magic it is the same: some effects can create that gasp, and others simply leave such a large hole in the audiences senses that they are speechless.

The statement “magicians need an audience, jugglers don’t” has been put forward as a key difference between these arts. But there are many hobby magicians who practice just for themselves, and many performing jugglers who don’t neccesarily enjoy juggling in of itself. Whether you need an audience or not depends on the person and what they want, not on the field. Personally speaking: I was a magician before I was a juggler, but I hated performing magic until more recently. I had fun practicing for myself, not in performing. Juggling, on the other hand, I was performing (and enjoying!) 6 months after learning a 3 ball cascade.

What is certainly true, is that the hobby magician learns about performance, whilst the hobby juggler does not. Good performance skills (even if only in theory) are part of magical learning. And good performance in this case simply means precision and clarity. Even if they never perform, a (good) hobby magician is aware of every detail of his skills. Jugglers are often not. I learnt so much good stagecraft from magic. Basic theatre theory and practice, which one doesn’t learn from reading juggling books or going to juggling meetings. Which leads to misdirection…

I find the whole misdirection arguments (“magicians misdirect, jugglers direct”) misleading. Misdirection is a misnomer. It is historically badly named. It should be called direction. And direction is simply good theatre. When I make my Erdnase top-palm in my Poker act, I am not MISDIRECTING attention from my hands. I am DIRECTING attention to somewhere else. And I am (trying to!) direct attention to one single specific point every moment that I am standing on stage. Whether I am juggling, performing magic, or clapping in the finale, I am trying to get the audience to react to me in a certain way, and to shift their focus because of that. To repeat myself, (hobby) magicians learn this as a matter of course: (hobby) jugglers do not.

So are there any similarities? Apparently yes, if only because of all the people (myself included) who enjoy both fields. The biggest part is probably the skills involved. It is a reasonably special set of people who get off on practicing juggling, close-up magic or stage manipulation (or Rubik’s Cube, dice-stacking, Sport Stacking, yo-yo, kendama etc etc). So there is presumably a mental set-up which is required to do these things well (and which also, presumably, aids in an interest in writing (and reading) boring essays on the subject…).

So, given these differences and similarities: WHY DO I HAVE SUCH A STRONG IMPULSE AGAINST COMBINING THEM IN MY OWN WORK???

My performance work consists basically of my “straight” (non-funny) 6 minute juggling act, to music. And then of about 30 minutes total “funny” speaking material, of which around 20 minutes is magic acts. I have always had that distinction: magic is speaking, juggling is not. Which makes sense for my magic history (close-up was my first love, classically always performed speaking), but not for my juggling (my first performing was comedy street shows). But at some point in my development, it was important for me to make that distinction, perhaps to push myself stronger in the Varieté direction that I love so much.

But still, why not then make a music based act on juggling and magic? Well, firstly, I don’t “need” a second act to music with juggling. If anything, then I should work on my magic act to music (I have had a semi-finished manipulation act for quite some time now). But there must be a more fundamental reason.

I love simplicity. Simple images, simple props, simple statements of intent. Perhaps I am scared that having TWO (oh my God, think of it!) skills on display would be too complicated or confusing. Is he a juggler? Or a magician? Again, not such a strong reason…

Actually, my work in Rotterdam was the first time that I began to understand and imagine a way to combine these two arts. The student managed to make some magic material which was ONLY POSSIBLE because of his juggling technique. So simple, but a breakthrough, at least for me. My problem was revealed to be the logic that was always missing to me. Why juggle three balls, and then have them vanish and reappear? Well, who cares “why”, AS LONG AS THE TECHNIQUE IS RELEVANT!

I feel so stupid that that simple link has for so long eluded me: especially as that thesis is one of the fundamental statements within my performing. I still don’t know why I have put up those walls between my juggling world and my magic world, but slowly I start to tunnel through.

(Cologne, December 2007 / Seattle, March 2011)