Luke Wilson – Moisture Festival – April 2011


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.

Act breakdown

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.
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
2:26 collect
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
4:01 Balance
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
5:05 Point
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
6:14 Bow
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.

Building a new act.

Exciting times. After about 8 years with more or less the same material I’m about to make drastic changes. I have always built my acts after the same pattern. Lately I have found myself completely bored by that form.

• A piece of music. Composed for the act.
• A choreography set to that music.
• Music finished. Finale trick, take a bow and outro music.
• Exit

Simple but boring. I want to make something different. Or new. New to me. I want to use music but I want to edit exciting music to fit my act. In this way I’m going to have the possibilities of jumping between tempos and different pieces of music and add moments of recognition to the audience. I can use the music to change characters. I can go from a happy energetic persona to a pompous figure or what ever.
I can change “skill”. Blablabla.

I have to excuse my language earlier. Its not that its boring to make a choreography to a set piece of music. Its just that I need to do something with my material to find the joy again. To completely change route.
I used to get really excited about making a start at a new act. 8 years ago when I constructed the act that I now so badly want to change I was super excited and the ideas came flying. And it worked well. I have done that act for about 1500 times.

And now its time to move on.
But how do I start? It would be great to use this blog and its readers and writers to get some input and inspiration. How do YOU set everything up when you start with a new piece? Id like to hear your thoughts about it. Lets create together.

I stop now. I wanted to write about my method and about my idea. It turned out I have a wage idea and NO method. So I need a discussion with you guys. Give me your tips and your secrets : )
I’m going on tour now. For a year. But Internet is everywhere so lets meet there.

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.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but….

So, last month I found myself not being able to do my best in performances, it didn’t matter if before the act I had trained until I dropped or if I hadn’t trained at all, didn’t matter if I had a bad day or a great day, when it came to the performance it was flat and the tricks were all over the place. Not at all great for a Handbalancer.

I couldn’t understand it; I had asked everyone ‘what’s going on, do you get it?’ And no one seemed to have the correct answer.

  • In my first act, the more technical act, I was getting unusually tired by the end, wobbling in tricks,  not making certain positions solidly, it’s just wasn’t going right and I couldn’t understand it.
  • In the second act, ‘Mack the Knife’, I’d take my hat off and come down straight away. At the end of the act I’d put my hat on a audience member, go into a one arm next to them (by this time my forearm is pumped) and I ask them to hand the hat back, (stupid mistake – audience members don’t understand anything and they get excited with hats) but again I’d start to fall and not be able to grab the hat put it on my head and walk down the stairs.

Tricks I used to be comfortable and happy with, just failed me, and completely tired me out.

Then one night I performed in Angel in front of circus friends, it was a bit of a laugh and a joke, and a friend of mine (fellow handbalancer) asked me to put in a certain trick -so I added 3 new tricks. 1 I had never performed and 2 I never had done in this act…Well the music messed up to begin with, which I just found funny but the added pressure of having circus people there gave me an incentive to work hard and I played with the audience and really enjoyed myself and nailed all my tricks. Then I went back to the restaurant and it was the same as always, mediocre. A couple weeks later I then performed Mack the Knife at Cafe de Paris, (I had to change the act around because of the new venue). Again this act was back to the good old days, nice and solid, good performance and character, and felt and looked great.

So what was wrong?

I realised I had got bored, I had got complacent, I had got comfortable and stopped trying, I needed something new, new challenges, something to drive me in my performances, something to make me push hard for what I’m doing – not think about what I’m eating for tea, do I need to cut my nails or wow I hope I don’t smell maybe I should have a shower, while I’m performing.

I have now added in 3 new tricks, 1 of which I really struggle with in training but because of the stage and audience it means I have to work harder because I can’t fall, I’m now getting this move quite reasonably. I have always made myself count every 1 arm for 3 seconds until I move but I had forgotten about that so I start doing it again  and its cleaner, it’s more solid it’s what a handbalancer should look like. So I did the same for Mack the Knife, I’ve added in a few little tricks, I’ve added in a few more little character moments and started to enjoy it and have fun.

And last night I performed my act the best I ever have, flat Mana, legs together in a side 1 arm 3 seconds solid and clean. Now this is how it should always be.

When they talk about success they talk about reaching the top. Well…. There is no top. You’ve got to go on… not stop at any point.