It started with a step-up shoulder stand and ended with a standing ovation. In between, Between Someonesons contained some the most innovative juggling concepts invented in recent memory. This special show on the Thursday evening prior to Austin Jugglefest XX featured Patrik Elmnert and Wes Peden, both extraordinarily talented and creative jugglers. As a bonus event welcoming those arriving early to the festival, it set the standard extremely high for the rest of the weekend’s activities, and quickly it was obvious why they occupy the top two spots in Luke Burrage’s latest online popularity poll.
Physical interaction was a key theme. Attired in reflectionally mirrored shirts, kneepads and short hair, Patrik and Wes displayed impressive athletic abilities throughout the performance. From leaping to spinning to sliding, their bodies were often intricately integrated with the objects being manipulated. Consequently it sometimes became difficult to tell what was doing the dancing, the props or the performers. Highlights included a single club manipulation sequence and an even more intertwined movement using two rings, as the pair created a refreshing new perspective on what a multiperson juggling show might look like. Apart from acrobatic acts, actual contact between jugglers is typically minimal, and the physical connection between the two artists helped establish a more tangible (although non-physical) connection with the audience.
Contrast and transitions between dynamic movement and static balance were thoroughly explored. Basic throwing and catching were of course present, but objects were also deflected, bounced, rolled, and kicked in numerous clever ways. The word “basic” in the previous sentence does not even begin to do justice to the myriad of elaborate permutations on display. In one brilliantly conceived and executed section, Wes and Patrik stood face to face, each juggling three clubs in fully intermeshed cascade patterns. Words and still images cannot adequately describe the incredible visual appeal of this. Binary star revolutions, half spins, corrected half spins, double spins, and reverse spins were progressively introduced into the mix, all while constantly remaining a half beat out of sync in order to avoid collisions. The flawless routine culminated with concurrent three-up 360s, to everyone’s amazement. In equally breathtaking fashion, the show concluded with a vertical balanced ring being delicately transferred back and forth from head to head, a keenly acute skill few have mastered.
Considering the intense choreography and high degree of technical difficulty, the number of drops was quite remarkably small; a vast majority of sequences were performed with perfect dropless precision. With few exceptions, the rare drop triggered a rewind back to the beginning of the entire current sequence, regardless of whether it started five or fifteen seconds ago. The audience enjoyed this uncommon approach to presenting a clean performance end to end.
A primarily ambient soundtrack provided an engaging sonic backdrop for several of the parts. Mostly instrumental and often polyrhythmic, it executed well its role to enhance and not distract. The unique and unfamiliar music occasionally attained clear focus as it stretched the boundaries of many listeners. However, these attributes echoed and complemented the similarly unique and unfamiliar actions being materialized on stage. Even the absence of any accompanying music whatsoever was effectively employed at times. The aforementioned one club and two ring pieces were performed in complete silence aside from the squeaking of sneakers on the wooden stage floor, and the audience’s appreciative applause and laughter when the performers found themselves helplessly entangled with each other and had to briefly pause to figure out what went awry.
Humor was sparingly yet efficiently sprinkled in. Balls were animated into something resembling a train or snake with the tail being continually moved up to the head; clubs were skillfully returned to a shiny silver prop box from whence they originated; rings were unpredictably whirled around. One particularly memorable bit involved a very funny water break at about the halfway point. In the spirit of Denis Paumier, a plastic water bottle was obtained from the prop box, then open and consumed using unnaturally roundabout and robotic methods. For example, Wes held the bottle cap with arm outstretched while Patrik grasped the body of the bottle and walked in a circle in order to unscrew the cap, comically ducking under Wes’s arm on every rotation. Assorted dexterous exchanges of bottle and cap followed, with both performers ultimately getting a much-deserved drink to quench their physical as well as creative thirst.
Other prominent and more intellectual themes included symmetry, synchronization, and repetition. A mesmerizing introduction was supplied in the form of synchronized complex sequences comprising several markedly difficult maneuvers, slowly evolving and eventually circling back to an initial motif. This early highlight began with Wes frozen then echoing an extended sequence demonstrated by Patrik, while Patrik froze in turn. The two then proceeded to simultaneously loop through the sequence several times. At one point, Patrik broke free from the synchronicity while Wes continued on with a couple further cycles. While somewhat subtle, this simple quirk illustrated the shrewd undertones of social commentary as well as the carefully planned attention to detail that took things to another level.
Indeed, ideas suggested in the various segments reached far beyond superficial entertainment. Constructed from a variety of different angles, the end result was a powerful and intelligent artistic statement. The exceptional and strikingly technically challenging juggling alone was sufficient to produce a tremendous and profound experience (11 ring ultimates, 11 club ultimates, simultaneous 6 club qualify, and simultaneous 7 club flash!), but the additional conceptual subtexts successfully challenged the audience as well, and that made the overall cognitive impact much deeper.
As indicated, the intellectual and artistic stimulation was more than satisfying. That said, another basic fact made this production stand out above the rest: it was simply entertaining. Sitting to the left, a pair of young jugglers were witnessing their first real juggling show. Throughout the show, their mouths remained fixed in a position somewhere in between a smile and jaw-dropping awestruck. In front, a school teacher watched her first juggling show. She exclaimed afterward that she wished her students could be exposed to such beautifully entertaining work. It’s certainly true that Wes and Patrik displayed a tour de force for jugglers in terms of both art and technicality. What should not be overlooked, however, is that their show was solidly accessible to all. What a combination!
In conclusion, Between Someonesons is well worth seeing if you have the opportunity, delivering an unforgettable collection of moments for both seasoned festival veterans and those unfamiliar with the scene. It will astound your mind, inspire your dreams, and expand your expectations as to what juggling can be. It was purely awesomeonesons! Future dates include the European Juggling Convention this summer in Toulouse, France.