Before there was Kris there was Béla
I’m currently sat in a hotel lobby in a foreign country typing on a MacbookPro Retina, which Luke would have particularly have approved of. Not only for my superior choice of technology, but also the pretend rock star status of living on the road.
I went through periods of seeing Luke every day, almost every waking hour for a few months, to seeing him randomly once every few months. So it’s only recently that I’ve really come to appreciate that I’m never going to see the particularly skinny Englishman again. Until now it was possible that not running into Luke was an unfortunate side effect of busy calendars. But now, 2 years since his death, I think my brain has fully accepted that meeting Luke is not going to happen again.
Sadness asides, I thought it would be interesting to those who never knew Mr Wilson or his work to use this anniversary as an opportunity to analyse a little of his work and try and understand some of the detail and reasoning in his compositions.
I’ve been watching a version of Luke’s club routine (which he mentions in Repetition, posted on Circus Geeks), filmed by Alan Plotkin. In Alan’s words, “This was the last time I filmed Luke Wilson. It was at Moisture Festival 2011 at the Vashon Island venue. I challenged him before the performance to go drop free and he nailed it.”
Unfortunately I never got to see this version live so I am almost certainly missing detail which video cannot convey. I did however see two versions of Luke’s older club routines live and Luke shared a couple of different older versions on video with me.
You can watch Luke talk briefly about his Moisture festival here:
The Moisture Festival version is my favourite of his club routines and in my opinion the most interesting and developed. It gives a clear definition of Luke’s artistic choices and yet leaves a couple of unanswered questions.
Luke stood sideways on stage looking across stage- not at the audience. He is holding 5 clubs- two clubs in his left hand, visible to the audience.
0:28 Routine starts
Places 5 clubs one at a time precisely on stage in a line, using his hands and feet. Reminiscent on Sergei Ignatov. http://juggling.tv/160
0:41 Hands in pocket, takes a moment to collect the image.
0:44 Foot lingers, almost flirtatiously around the first club
0:49 Hands out of pockets in stylised way.
1st Club kicked up. Manipulation thumb roll sequence
0:53 2nd club kicked up
0:57 3rd club kicked up – juggle walks forward and turning
1:00 Stand still – leaning into juggle run
1:04 4th club kicked up – 4 in doubles, classic fountain. Walks forward – odd feet – reaching for the remaining club
1:15 5th club kicked up
1:21 Triple into scissor catch in squat. Looks at audience.
1:26 Club down – fake drop – foot catch into 4 club routine: multiplex
4 club fast triples
4 club singles
53 iIn triple singles – turing backwards in a circle
Switch to synchronous – splits
1:59 High throw into multiplex bend back
2:02 Freeze with odd catch. Look at audience. Manipulation turn
2:10 Careful placement of balance – finger – cross armed set 3
2:14 Clubs with a balance – left-handed start – 3 chin rolls – drop into 4 – 53 chin roll turing
2:27 Pass club around body getting lower until on the foot.
2:31 Kick club causing it to roll on floor
2:34 Odd jump – pick up other club
2:35 Slow hand – look at remaining club – turn walk to it with purpose
2:43 5th club in kick up position – look at it
2:44 Kick up into multiplex pattern
2:57 Scissor catch look at audience – club still rocking gently
3:01 Stand up
3:05 Turn and throw 2 clubs away*
3:09 Almost a new person – new routine
3:13 Odd feet and club movements – puppet like – repeating patterns
Odd patterns, placements and wrist traps – odd starts and stops
linking moves, half turns
3:52 Chin roll combinations
3:57 Chin roll reverse cascade
4:06 Multi placements
4:09 Helicopter kick up – backcross combination – flat front 44strange1
4:15 Stylish 2 on a 342
4:20 Wilson 52242 wrong-end
4:22 Squat again – fast juggle – doubles with music
4:25 Fast doubles
4:27 Flats turning
4:33 High throw – Ignatov – slapbacks – half turns
4:45 Catch all 3 in right – squat – look at audience
4:52 Fake hard throw of one club
4:54 Slow 1 club slide – lego – puppetry movement style
5:09 Helicopter wrist trap kick up – Luke signature
5:44 Ends kick up sequence
5:47 Contortion cascade
5:50 Under arm trap – problem and solution
5:57 Leg catch freeze – build up tension
6:04 Triplex kick up
6:07 1 up Pirouette
6:09 Throw clubs behind him
6:24 Exit stage
Luke starts the routine standing still on stage, not looking at the audience – an interesting choice. It isn’t till a few seconds in that he looks at the audience, allowing them to take in his appearance and identity. Before that first look Luke is almost secondary to the props, the oddity in his moment and choices are clear but we don’t know how he feels about it.
The juggling begins with Luke kicking up into a 3 club cascade, he turns in a circle allowing the audience to take in this first and most classic pattern. From then on there are only a few classic juggling patterns which have been chosen for specific reasons. Most of the act consists of juggling created by the performer, something which used to be a rarity in juggling.
The first compliment (freeze) allows the audience in, before we have seen a window into his world, a taste of skill and things to come but that eye contact allows us to catch up and take Luke in. The freeze itself is an interesting position, in a sitting squat, far from a unusual ballet-influenced circus poses.
The section where Luke is continually moving and adjusting his legs, arms and clubs are a slight (but only slight) exaggeration of his OCD tendencies. Going for a coffee with Luke could be fun; moving the cutlery or various napkins off-centre would result in him subtly readjusting till everything was back to being in its rightful place, square and proper.
Watching Luke warm up every night for several months was also a chance to see how much he enjoyed systems which would be carried out pace for pace, throw for throw every night. Luke enjoyed his discipline. These puppet-esque movements sit very well with his energy on stage and yet are surprising and unusual, far from the normal movement qualities jugglers traditionally use.
The precision of placing the club into a balance on Luke’s head, is something that is common in many of his routines. Moments of careful precision that Luke was so excellent at, the weight and gravitas he gives the prop and the detail of the pinky finger out – reminiscent of a delicate tea cup which Luke was so fond of and makes for an important moment, heavily contrasting with some of the fast and complex juggling that has preceded it.
Luke runs his own version of a classic 423 kick-up using wrist traps to catch the kicked-up club (Luke help popularise wrist traps in club juggling, taken from another juggling prop – the devil stick. Luke invented many variations with wrist traps, now commonplace in contemporary juggling). This pattern is run for 33 rounds and lasts over half a minute. It’s an unusual choice of trick to run for so long.
Luke has chosen a unique trick to him, subtle in detail. It would be easy to miss the wrist trap if it were ran for only one or two rounds and it’s not a particularly difficult trick in a single repetition. As the pattern plays out the tension builds, we see Luke begin to struggle from the shear repetition and final relief when he breaks out of the loop. Repeating the pattern for so long allows the audience to take in and possibly understand the juggling and gives effective dramatic build in the act.
Luke also particularly enjoyed kick-up tricks which may also explain why he chose to repeat his 423 variation. He finishes the routine with a triplex kick-up, a trick Luke loved and is covered extensively in this video tutorial we made together in 2009.
The pirouette is the final full stop for the juggling, enforced by the dropping of the clubs**. The holding of breath as the audience begins to show it’s appreciation and the exhale of relief helps underscore how much concentration has gone into performing such a complex and well thought-out performance.
Luke was a talented magician and I can see it’s influence in the whole routine, particularly in his bow which was obviously thought out and practiced. The unbuttoning of his jacket and classic open hand position reminiscent to me of dove magician, Lance Burton as was Luke’s immaculately folded sleeves.
Luke left nothing to chance and thought out every detail of his work. Everything had been gone over with a fine comb, from the choice and variation of prop (Luke could probably have written a book on this subject) to his method of rolling up his selves.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for me to take from Luke’s work is to question every choice, be aware of every decision. Do what you believe in.
I miss Luke.
**The dropping of the clubs really confused me. When studying on my degree Luke taught lessons examining at the nature of status and how we treating our props on stage adds to the communication of how much an audience should care about what we are doing (trying not to drop in the most part). Theories for Luke’s end throw include, it was as simple as a stylistic choice or that he got carried away after performing such a perfect routine. However both these reasons don’t fit well with me, they don’t take into account Lukes meticulous nature or his lessons on giving the props value. For my money, the best guess comes from Jay Gilligan, he said that in one of the MRL laboratories Luke was exploring the idea of finding an ending that could not go on. Jay went onto say, “in one case his [Lukes] solution was to make an ending that was not only conceptual but also literal in the sense that he threw the clubs away from him, preventing any further contact and therefore erasing any doubt at all that he would continue.”
* At 3:05 into the act Luke turns and throws 2 clubs away. It looks slightly award and messy, if we understand the end drop then I cannot fathom this prop dump. My only attempt to grasp Luke’s choice here is that it’s a stylistic choice (or someone was supposed to take them from him?). I wish Luke was around now so I could quiz him about it.Many thanks to Lauren Hendry, Sean Gandini, Jon Udry and Jay Gilligan for their thoughts and feedback.
Why make a show?
Luke Wilson was a teacher, colleague, mentor and friend. He inspired me to set up Circus Geeks in March of 2011. Circus Geeks started out as a blog set up after a particularly late night conversation between myself and Luke. Although memories are fuzzy from the night’s events, the definition of juggling, art and how to make the perfect pizza were all discussed. As well as this, a mutual agreement was reached on the lack of information, ideas and connection circus artists manage to share with each other and the wider world. So I set up a WordPress blog, bought the URL and Circus Geeks was born.
At the time, I was performing my solo act in various venues around Europe and was getting a bit down about the idea of working in venues for long stretches away from home or venues in London which offered audiences that were more up for a night on the town rather than seeing a piece of circus.
I graduated with the act in 2008, so by 2012 I was no longer getting the same excitement I got when I first performed it. The solo with the silver cups and balls in Beta Testing was based on the feelings I had doing my graduation piece over and over again.
To be good at juggling (or anything) requires a massive amount of repetition. Typically this attitude of repetition has been continued into the artistic practices of some of the best jugglers of all time. Many have performed 7-10 minute numbers in cabarets, music halls, variete and circus. Their acts didn’t vary too much, perhaps a change of trick once in a while or a new costume but pretty much set pieces to be performed 100s of times, finding different audiences for each performance. Luke wrote an interesting essay on the subject of repetition which you can find on the Circus Geeks blog here: https://circusgeeks.co.uk/2011/09/04/repetition/
After reading Seth Godin I realised that I needed to make an active choice to constantly create new work, find people who were interested in my work and share it with them. Upon reflection I realise it’s what Gandini Juggling do so well (a company I have worked with intermittently since 2008 and has had massive influence on my juggling and views on art).
I knew that performing interesting, new circus work in the UK can be hard as audiences are not aware of what circus (perhaps ‘alternative circus’) can be. I’d always been obsessed by TED (in 2009 I had watched every TED talk there was) and wanted to give my own. I thought that making a show somewhere between a TED talk and a circus performance would be something I’d love to see and making it about juggling would help audiences in to a world very alien to them. It would be an interesting challenge.
I also knew I didn’t want to make a solo.
I met Matt and Jon in the early to mid 2000s at juggling conventions. We became friends and saw each other at juggling conventions. Matt graduated from at Circomedia and Jon studied as an electrician’s apprentice (we still get the occasional story from Jon about how he was electrocuted or how he ruined some poor clients kitchen by drilling holes in their ceiling by accident) but he dropped out, moved to London and made the shift to professional juggler. Matt went onto found his own circus company, PanGottic.
In October of 2012 I asked Matt and Jon if they were interested in Beta Testing, they were both up for it. Each has their own solo shows, so for the first version on Beta Testing we supplemented a small amount of new material by borrowing from their existing work.
We went on to be awarded the Propellor Prize in March 2013, which enabled us to make more material and a more cohesive show, which was premiered at the Roundhouse CircusFest in April 2014.
Beta Testing Inspiration
I like recommendations from sources I trust – almost everyone does.
Here is a list of stuff that have influenced the show and stuff we love:
– All of Seth Godin’s TED talks – Arron quotes him in the solo scene where Arron is juggling and talking at the same time. – https://www.ted.com/speakers/seth_godin
– Jay Gilligan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB_sfnwbgvk
– James Randi – http://www.ted.com/talks/james_randi
– Rodney Mullen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEm-wjPkegE
– Richard Dawkins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxGMqKCcN6A
– DROP – Luke Wilson
– Red/Blue – Luke Wilson -http://www.renegadesignlab.com/diversions/redblue.html
– Smashed – Gandini Juggling – http://smashedjuggling.com
– Water on Mars – Tony Pezzo X Patrik Elmnert X Wes Peden – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppgy_9yx5-w
– Flowerpot – Clockwork – http://juggling.tv/171
– Anatoli and Viktor – http://juggling.tv/121
– Anthony Gatto – http://anthonygatto.com
– Dieto – http://juggling.tv/633
– PeaPot – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wO3Ua1lmrU
– The Qian Brothers – http://juggling.tv/1541
– Sean McKinney – http://www.seanmckinney.com
– Robin Gunney – http://juggling.tv/5023
– Kris Kremo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzkoZH1JKmo
– Ball Sticks – Guy Heathcote – http://juggling.tv/2042
– Pomp, Duck & Circumstance – Donald Grant – http://juggling.tv/1798
– Alexander Kiss – http://juggling.tv/343
– Bobby May – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ZUoqxWwMo
– Sam Veale – http://juggling.tv/906
– Steve Rawlings – http://juggling.tv/2504
– The Two Marks – http://juggling.tv/257
– Ty Tojo – http://www.tytojo.com
– Bob Bramson – http://juggling.tv/364
– Jay Gilligan – http://www.fourthshape.com
– Erik Aberg – http://erikaberg.com
– The Lynchpin by Seth Godin
– The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
– 4000 Years of Juggling – Volume I & II- Karl Heinz-Ziethen
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (Radio plays over books every time)
-Steal Like An Artist- Austin Kleon
– Stewart Lee – http://www.stewartlee.co.uk
– Robin Ince – http://robinince.com
– Penn & Teller – https://circusgeeks.co.uk/2013/03/19/public-fan-letters-penn-teller/
– Steve Jobs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA
Week by week break down: https://circusgeeks.co.uk/?s=beta+testing+-+creation+week
Scene break down
The idea of Jon juggling as the audience arrived came from watching the DVD of Anthongy Gatto setting the world record for 7 ring juggling as an audience around him ate their dinner. Anthony juggled 7 rings for 15 minutes and 6 seconds finishing with a 5 ring pirouette.
In Beta Testing(BT) Jon juggled 5 balls for 5mins, which is hard to do under pressure. We did some training for it 6 months before the show and Jon was managing close to 20 minutes. It’s interesting to see how showmanship can be used or ignored to manipulate how an audience will react to a trick.
The opening idea for the show comes from a piece I made about learning 5 ball back crosses. The piece grew from a performance I did at Jacksons Lane as part of a Lab:Time showcase in June 2012. Since then I’ve tweaked the slides and script but ultimately the key themes of the piece have remained the same, showing an audience the process a juggler goes through to learn a trick.
Jon’s Ring routine
Originally set out to remix and reference jugglers of the past with accompanied projected visuals but after initial testing we decided to scrap that aspect. Instead we have a really nice routine that helps lift the show after its initial text-heavy piece.
The Dreaded Question
This monologue comes directly from an early and popular post on the Circus Geeks blog. Steve Ralwlings helped us connect the scene with the lead in of the heckles, helping set up the tone for the piece.
Again this scene started from a popular post on the blog, written by Erik Aberg. When we first showed it to an invited audience we received mixed reactions. But after scrapping some material, reworking and clarifying intentions with Steve we arrived at a scene which is very fun to perform and normally well received. Our review from the Evening Standard says this scene alone is almost worth the ticket price.
The idea of the colour change and playing on my colour blindness came after I was looking into colour theory and ways it could be used in juggling. I wish Luke could have seen me perform it.
Matt and Jon both had sequences and tricks with everyday objects so it was logical to tie them together. Chair juggling was something I’d wanted to try for a long time, so we spent a few interesting (and scary) days throwing furniture at each other.
This scene changed little as I went through the creation of BT, so there’s not much to be said. The original act can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMTvvphbdVU
Originally the idea was to explore drops, setting up the idea of apologising for each drop, as the drops went on the apologies would get grander and increasingly ridiculous.
But after various experiments we came to the version in BT, it’s more a window into a world that only jugglers normal see. The truth is myself and Jon can easily perform the trick, at first we didn’t have any script or set material but the more times we performed it the more things we found to improvise around. Setting a structure allows us to guarantee (some degree) the piece isn’t too flat but isn’t too strict so we can be sure the piece stays fresh for us and in turn the audience.
Chop Suey came very late on in the creation period, only 10 days before we premiered. Steve Rawlings pushed us to create a scene that was a bit lighter than some of the other scenes and fill it with juggling. It was refreshing to be a bit silly on stage.
The original concept was looking at risk and consequence. If a high-wire artist falls off they die; if a juggler drops, it’s a bit akward. Even when juggling seemingly dangerous items like fire torches the consequence of something going wrong is usually a lot less than the perceived risk. We thought it would be interesting to make a real understandable consequence.
Throughout various showing we experienced with the amount of attempts, juggling balls, music and even size of fish. The optimum is the version on the video. On the last night of our premier run at the Roundhouse we had the salmon and rainbow trout cooked up for a celebratory feast!
We spent 2 weeks in La Breche in France working with Howie Bailey to develop the ‘big ball’ scene. It comes from various Lab:Time work I’ve done with Howie before, working with 3D mapping and projection. The juggling in the scene is not the most technical but the prop, lights and pressure of hitting cues make it a very hard scene to get right.
Circus Geeks are currently applying for funding from Arts Council England to support a tour of the show in small-scale and rural venues across the UK. Fingers crossed!
For those of you who could make the premier week here is the show. Obviously it’s better live, that’s just the nature of live performance. Come see it in person when we tour next year.
Studio Theatre, Roundhouse. Easter weekend. Go. Go. Go!
Howie came to help us run the custom cueing system that we had made for us, allowing us to run the show cues from onstage. We ended up using extra cues from Tom and Adam of the Roundhouse (both top guys) but are in good stead to run it all ourselves when we come to start our rural tour (hopefully) next year.
Howie was constantly making tweaks in the system and accommodating our ever increasing demands to tight deadlines, while we were running scenes and final touches.
On Monday 21st April we did a dress rehearsal for a few friends who could make the week of shows. It was a little odd in term of atmosphere but we were technically solid and trusted that when we had a full audience the show would sail.
The next day we performed <Beta_Testing>.
5 days later the week and year project came to an end*.
If you want to read a more in-depth account of how we made the show please e-mail email@example.com
Many thanks to all those who came and supported us.
*but it didn’t really. We aim to tour from the start of 2015, get in touch if you are interested.
Back to the artistic space formally known as Circus Space (and called National Centre for Circus Arts) for a week of final development.
We spent 3 challenging days playing with scenes and reordering the show. The legendary juggler Steve Rawlings came to be outside eyes. Making some insightful suggestions and helping clean the show. Steves first hand understanding of juggling meant he could see what we we’re trying to say with each scene and helped us get to that.
We ran the show a bunch of times and are ready to attack our time at the Roundhouse.
Our latest video from our show
We spent 5 days in the theatre space at Jacksons lane last week, working towards an invited showing of a close-to-finished Beta Testing at the end if the week. Nice to reflect that just under a year ago we were there working toward our initial showing, which spurred us on to apply to the Propellor Prize.
The first couple of days seemed particularly tough, first working days back after Christmas with little true creativity to be had. It was more of a case of slotting various bits we had already made together and looking at the technical constraints and transitions.
Howie came to work with us on Wednesday, walking through his superb visuals and custom cueing system which allows us to run much of them show on stage. The constant reach for self reliance is a habit I have inherited from studying and obsessing the most successful classic variety acts. Something I will have to let go of at some point down the line but for now I cling to it like a clingy thing, possibly a sloth which has just had a double espresso from Prufrock. As it turned out the marvellous Jules of Jacksons Lane 2.0 helped us out with a few extra lighting states and cues.
Matt devised a cunning way of dropping in a scree which made us all very happy and even worked in the showing, unlike most of Matts hair brained ideas – talking of which, Jon Udry was on top juggling form despite seemingly spending most of his time on luxury cruses in the Caribbean.
The showing went pretty well and we got some valuable feedback and new ideas, it seemed like the audience enjoyed it and some showed interest at the possibility of booking it in the future, watch this space_ We were happy with the results and are looking forward to making some changes for our official premier of <Beta_testing> in April.
A year ago I recorded an average November day, here’s an update…
I’m currently touring with Smashed in France so things are a little more hectic than my average London days -mainly lots of traveling and very few good coffees to be found.
My 16th of November 2013 was reasonably standard for a touring schedule, perhaps a little heavy on the travel side:
7:00 Get up
7:15 Taxi to train station
8:06 Train 1.5 hours
9:45 Coach 2.5 hours
11:20 Car pick up – drive to hotel
11:35 Hotel – Juggling in my room, read.
13:00 Lunch in a local restaurant
14:00 Hotel – emails & rest
16:00 Theatre – juggling practice
19:00 Meal local restaurant
20:00 warmup & set
23:00 Hotel – sleep
I wonder how my day will look in a years time…