Things Jugglers Say

I have always liked kick-up tricks with clubs, and have over the years somewhat specialised in them to a greater or lesser degree, including teaching workshops at juggling conventions specifically about that particular trick, and releasing a couple of videos onto the internets based around some of the variations possible. This has lead to me being perhaps somewhat known in the juggling community for this particular trick.

Yesterday I performed my club juggling act at an event held at a circus institution: a press conference type show with circus students and teachers, and various city officials in attendance.

It wasn’t my best show, but I did my job reasonably well, and was, as far as I could tell, well received by all. After the show, one of the jugglers (who had mentioned already that he had done one of my above mentioned workshops some years ago, and was also very interested in kick-ups himself) complimented me on my act, and then followed that up with: “but you don’t do many kick-ups in your act.”

I agreed with him, and talked a little about how I have been doing less kick-ups in general in recent years, due to the wear that they put on the knees and ankles, and the worsening injuries that that in turn entails.

Whilst this is true, and there are specific kick-up variations that I no longer practice for that reason, I have now thought a little more about his statement, and what it could mean.

For the fact of the matter is, that in the act I performed, which lead directly to the comment of “you don’t do many kick-ups in your act”, I do 5 different kick-up variations, for a total of 43 individual kick-ups in a 6 minute act.

That actually seems like quite a lot of kick-ups!

Is it me? Do I think I’m doing a lot and I’m not really? Perhaps, but no-one has ever said to me before that “it’s not very many kick-ups.” Quite the opposite, in fact: audience members commenting specifically on the kick-ups (rather than the absence thereof) is a rather common occurrence. But to be clear now, I refer now to non-juggler audience members.

I don’t know how possible it ever is for us to put ourselves truly in the position of the audience, to overcome our preconceptions of technique, to enter into the mindset of the outsider. And as I have surely written before, the responsibility to mould that mindset rests strongly with us as performers. But we have to first be clear ourselves as to what we are communicating.

A lot of modern/contemporary/new-school/creative/manipulation-based juggling is based around non-repeating patterns. About short sequences, single throws and rapid changes. And in some ways, I find that to be a shame. Only variation and repetition can lead to images and recognition, and I consider such things to be important aspects of our juggling reality.

Perhaps my 5 kick-up variations are too few? Or the repeating patterns too many? But too few for who, and too many based on what criteria, exactly?

How many variations on a theme are too much? When does repetition cross the line from boring pattern to strong image (and back again)? As a juggler, can I ever truly “see” my juggling from the outside?

And how do I know how many kick-ups is enough?

Shifting Goals

Warning: This post is a bit of an ego boost, sorry! 

I don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to the “I’ve just flashed X number of objects” of approach to juggling. I’ve never set up a camera and spent 35mins trying one trick that’s probably too hard for me, I did today…

When I started juggling (10 or so years ago) juggling 7 clubs was a big deal. Very few could even blag it and even fewer performed it consistently on stage (this hasn’t changed yet). A well known juggling book* has this to say about The Seven Club Cascade, “…it is highly unlikely the more than one or two readers will ever have the actual experience of driving this pattern”. Funny how such statements date so quickly.

The love it or hate it the WJF should be partly credited to the rise of more 7 club jugglers.

And this makes you wonder what’s possible….

*Guess the juggling book

Fidelity

I write most of my blog posts in trains, many in cafes, and some in aeroplanes. I am in the train now, travelling from home in Cologne to work in Freiburg. I was there yesterday already, and did my rehearsals and so on, but then decided to travel home for the night, to return today for our first two shows (at 4pm and 8pm). That means I got home last night at 10pm, and left again this morning at 6am. Why would I do that?

My first juggling clubs were Spotlight European classic-long, with oil slick European style decoration. This particular model of club was pretty much the standard in the UK at the time (1990 or thereabouts), and so they were easily available and well suited to buying in case you wanted to pass with someone else. I chose the decoration because one of my heroes at my local juggling club had them too.

One of my major inspirations in my early juggling life was the Dutch juggler Michiel Hesseling. The company Oddballs had released a video of his club juggling, and I fell in love: with his Converse high-top shoes, his smart button-down shirt, his juggling, and his clubs. Red metallic Die Jonglerie Stage clubs with white handles. Beautiful creatures they were. Resplendent, slim and elegant. A trip to the juggling wholesalers Butterfingers in Bath took place, but alas, these clubs were not to be found. But, the American manufacturer Todd Smith had just released his Satellite club! This was a gorgeous creation, well proportioned, solidly built, and clad in a never before seen deep purple metallic decoration. Also, the Russian juggler Sergei Ignatov had apparently given them his blessing. I bought a set.

They were great clubs! They had a couple of idiosyncrasies that needed to be adjusted to, but otherwise, mighty fine! I juggled them for a couple of years, until I finally took the step to special order the Die Jonglerie Stage clubs after which I had always pined. The decoration I chose was more subdued: two simple bands of silver wrapped around the pure white bodies.

At this time (1995ish) I was heavily influenced by the video tapes being released by the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) of their festival held in America each year. Many of the jugglers I respected and attempted to emulate were using clubs from the American manufacturer Renegade. In the UK, a very small group of people used these clubs, but they too were people I looked up to. Almost impossible to find in any UK juggling shop, I ordered a set directly from Renegade, and waited with anticipation for the package to make it’s way through customs and into my eager hands.

Finally, they arrived. As I was expecting, they were heavy, they were solid. This was the first time that I understood that props are tools. Built for a purpose, built to last, by craftsmen, for artists. Add to that the romance of Californian built clubs, assembled in a small workshop by the founder of the company, rather than mass produced playthings constructed in an anonymous factory.

They were heavy, and soon I removed the silver decoration I had ordered, and let them fly naked through the air.

A heavy club has always been good for me. I am naturally a fast juggler, and heavier props help to keep me grounded and calm. Especially on stage, I find a heavier club incredibly beneficial. My experience with passing with Renegades has also been great: it’s like throwing a small, laser-guided missile. Where you throw, they arrive. Other clubs always seem to include a slight vibration, an uncertainty of their exact position or speed. Renegade clubs for me have always contradicted Heisenberg’s famous principle.

Over the next years, I tended to use standard Renegade clubs for passing, and the slimmer variety for my solo juggling. I also occasionally switched to other clubs (Henrys’ Pirouettes or Delphins), but after a few weeks (or after my first show with the new clubs) I would always return to the standard, undecorated Renegade club. I could trust them.

On my recent trip to Stockholm and Portugal, I happened to juggle briefly with Delphins, from German manufacturer Henrys, and PX3s from Italy’s Play. My issues with each of these clubs would take a whole extra post or two, but I did notice how little effort I needed to juggle them, due to their slimness and light weight, and I began to doubt again my commitment to Renegade.

I had three days at home before starting rehearsals in Freiburg, a contract where I will be performing around thirty shows. The perfect opportunity to try some new clubs! I ran around in Cologne from juggling store to juggling store warehouse, and put together a set of six brand new clubs: Henrys Circus Classic, with red metallic decoration and silver handles. Beautiful, beautiful creations. My training with them was great, and I made sure to bring only those clubs with me to Freiburg.

Yesterday was my lighting rehearsal, and, for the first time I can recall, I had major problems getting the lights how I needed them. I have always considered myself to be extremely flexible and easy with my lighting requirements (something that jugglers are normally famous for not being). I have even turned up at rehearsals where the technicians have told me that they had heard I can juggle in any light, but yesterday it was basically impossible to build something that allowed me to see my own juggling patterns on stage.

My new clubs looked glorious from the audience, but I tend to prefer it when I can see them myself too. Was it the decoration? Was one reason I have always been easy with lights the white clubs I have used for so many years? Perhaps yes, and, given the choice between seeing and not seeing, I would take seeing every time.

But how to know for sure?

And so when rehearsals were over yesterday (in addition to my juggling act I am performing three magic pieces with the MC, Ken Bardowicks), I more or less ran to the train station to jump in a train back to Cologne. I packed my Renegades, fell into bed, and woke to my alarm clock.

And now I find myself in a train again, travelling back to Freiburg, annoyed with myself, but mostly just shaking my head at my own stupidity. I will try my Renegades in my light, and see if there is any difference. But I think I know how this affair ends. Every couple of years I try a fling with some new club, but I always go back to Renegade…

Thank you Tom, thank you Iman.

www.variete-am-seepark.de
www.renegadejuggling.com

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