This past summer, I went on a juggling adventure. I took a few thousand dollars I made while teaching mathematics during June and left for Europe. After the juggling convention Summer Flame in Vienna, Austria and the French Juggling Convention in Toulouse, France, I found myself in Lublin, Poland for my first EJC!
I will not lie, it was incredibly epic. Before sharing my journey to the best of my ability, I have two confessions. I’ve only been to one IJA. I know. I’m terribly sorry. Please know, however, that I love you all and hope to go to many IJAs in the future. Let’s just say that life circumstances got in the way. Secondly, I’m terribly intimidated by all of my readers. Many of you are far more involved in the juggling community, which makes me incredibly jealous. I hope to become more involved and consider you all my friends – I can’t wait until we meet.
OK! With that baggage off my chest, let’s talk Lubby! Who is Lubby you ask? Well, he’s the EJC 2012 mascot! He travelled throughout all of Europe during the last year of the world taking pictures and dreaming about a great festival with all of his juggling friends. I believe that his wish came true.
I’ll stop stalling now and tell you about things that you want to know. The Gala show seems to be a good place to start. It was incredible. In the first place, the show wasn’t simply a list of performers who followed sequentially right after the other. The organizers created a cohesive show telling a story about how jugglers saved planet earth, convincing the extraterrestrial beings that the circus arts on earth were unique in the universe. All of the acts and even the stage hands played characters telling the story. The entire production worked quite well and everyone cheered when Earth didn’t become an interstellar superhighway after all.
I honestly freaked out when I saw the stage hands setup the first act. If you haven’t seen the Raw Art performance by Katya Nikiforova, then stop reading my article and YouTube her right now. She blends rollerblading with bounce juggling in a seamless fashion. The Gala ended with another Raw Art routine, the best hula hoop routine I’ve ever seen on video or live, performed by Alexandra Savina. The show was great because it incorporated lots of variety including an incredible hand-to-hand routine, a duet standing trapeze, a juggling routine with an accordion, a great hoop manipulation routine by Marianna de Sanctis and even a routine sans clothing (those crazy French!). Tony Pezzo III, from St. Louis, Missouri did our country proud. His routine featuring one to seven rings was one of the most solid and clean acts of the entire Gala show. Tony’s classmate in Sweden, Emil Dahl also was impressive with his flash of five clubs and two shoes in a seven object cascade. The whole gym noticed him the day before, however, when he was working on eight and nine clubs. So many times he just barely dropped that ninth club at the end of the flash. Keep an eye out for him.
My personal favorite act was by Guilluame Martinet. I first met him at Summer Flame where he taught one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended. At that festival, I saw the beginnings of the new show “Flaque” with Eric Longequel. Those who attended the IJA will remember Eric as the protagonist in Cie Ea Eo. He also performed his hilarious Diabolo routine in at both the IJA Cascade of Stars and the Summer Flame opening show. Anyways, Guilluame’s routine at the EJC Gala was brilliant. It mostly involved three balls, three balls and a ball rolling on a table, and an eight ball flash in a creative way. He performed the entire routine completely silent; this strategy allowed him to manipulate the audience masterfully during the few occasions that he did drop.
Silent routines were a big theme during my trip in general. I noticed this at the French Convention in Toulouse, France (the location of EJC 2013). The style of silent routines is heavily influenced by the circus school in Toulouse named Le Lido. By the way, the other two routines by Lido graduates in the EJC Gala were also silent. I found it to be very interesting, engaging, and refreshing. During a drop, I didn’t cringe as the performer tried to catch up to the music.
My EJC experience was not defined by the Gala Show, despite the fact that it was the best Gala I have seen at any juggling festival. What defined my experience was the fact that the EJC inspired me to involve myself more within the juggling community. It was not just a series of great shows, it was a life experience. When I was at the French convention, I was asked by a French juggler why I came to the festival without the ability to speak a word of French. “I speak juggling,” I replied. We are now friends. At the EJC, English is the preferred language so it was even easier to make friends. The EJC simply reinforced my belief that jugglers are great human beings and I want to know more of them. The friends I made during the convention will make more of an impression than the shows – which of course were all great.
For example, I had the privilege to do some one club manipulation jamming with Anni Küper. I first heard about her from Kyle Johnson last year at the incredible Arkansas juggling convention. Kyle credited her for the inspiration of his amazing three club rolling over the stomach trick (I don’t know the official name of the trick). She is an awesome human being. Moreover, she competed at the first special show at the EJC. This show compiled a half dozen circus school jugglers to compete for an opportunity to open the EJC Gala show. Anni performed with only one club with her hands tied around her back. She did several cool versions of body rolls and even balanced the club on the back of her heel at one point. Her act raised the roof; it was great to see her experience success.
An open stage every day of the fest gave opportunities to about 70 performers. One such performer, and another great human being, was Namer Golan. He is a fantastic juggler from Israel and his routine entitled “Mickey Mouse & The Evil Alien” displayed fun ball juggling and mastery of numerous stall points on the top of his head. Despite his incredible ability to stall balls on several different points on his head, Namer also introduced me to the magical world of PreChac passing. Holy Grail, here I come! (The name of a beautiful passing paper now on my juggling bucket list).
Namer also participated in arguably the most impressive spontaneous event during the convention. During the middle of Wednesday night, about eight ball-on-head experts engaged in ball-on-head combat. The skill demonstrated was jaw-dropping. After the battle, the various jugglers began jumping over stacked up boxes while maintaining a ball balanced on top of their head. At this point, the entire gym stopped in shock in awe. Keep an eye out for Juan Mateos of Uruguay. His ball on head performance on the same Open Stage as Scott Sorensen and Luke Burrage (and myself actually) was a great act which I anticipate will develop into something everyone in the juggling community will know about in the future. A few acts after my one ball, one ring, one club routine, Scott closed out the show with great technical ability. He juggled five rings with a ball bouncing on his head, several variations of overhand throws with rings, and he ended with a nine ring flash! Awesome!
Each night there was a special show a couple of hours following the open stage. After the gala show, the Germans demonstrated their world dominance at three club combat during the fight night event. Jochen Pfeiffer, from Get the Shoe, won for the umpteenth time in a row. I’m looking forward to Luke Burrage teaching the combat workshop at the Kansas City Juggling Festival because there is a serious gap between the German combat skills and the rest of the world.
The night after the circus competition special show was the Slam show. This single elimination tournament of twenty four jugglers involved the audience voting for the best thirty second improvised act performed by the two competing jugglers. Daniel and Dominique, winners of IJA Teams in 2012, actually lost in the first round. Their ten club passing worked, but this special show was more about entertaining the audience than it was about technical mastery of juggling. The show was quite engaging, especially during the third round when the competitors were forced to perform a routine involving either a beer crate, roll of toilet paper, three coat hangers, a trash bag, or a broom. In that round, one competitor impressed the audience with a series of contact moves with a roll of toilet paper. However, he ended up losing because the second performer graced the stage with some trash bag poi moves transitioning into him stuffing the scraps of toilet paper from the stage into the trash bag – the audience was rolling in laughter.
The best special show from my experience, however, was the Intrika fashion show. The owners of Intrika recruited some of the best known jugglers at the festival to model their clothes as well as their prop bags. First of all, the audience was not allowed to enter the tent until right before the show started unless they had “VIP” status. The security guards (other fellow jugglers) were very strict on this account. Once the fashion show began, the crazy females in front of the stage screamed in ecstasy as each juggler pranced down the runway even throwing undergarments onto the models/performers (the underwear was also for sale). The screams escalated to hysteria as the performer proceeded to manipulate the prop of their choice at the edge of the runway. The fashion exhibitions/performances of Morgan, Marianna, and Guillaume were particularly exciting. Morgan danced around three balls in such a graceful way it seemed like the balls were juggling him. Marianna’s hula hoop manipulation was the best I’ve ever seen and Guillaume’s crazy three ball hip-hop dancing skills ended the performances with a bang. One female audience member even attempted to chase a model backstage until she was intercepted by security. I give my kudos to Intrika for not only making great clothes, but organizing an incredibly entertaining show.
The site in Lublin was perfect. The main gym was huge, allowing plenty of room for the showers, the vendors, bunches of stilt walkers, and of course the jugglers. The aerial gym was also enormous including aerials, unicycle obstacle course, Cyr wheel practice space, plenty of mats for acrobalance, and more room for jugglers. The game center was constantly occupied, and the dozen free computers made available was a great addition. There were just enough showers and although one shower malfunctioned, the problem was rectified within a few hours. The camping was heavily shaded and existed in between the main gym and the open stage, special stage, renegade, and bar tents. The weather was mostly beautiful other than one rainy day and the fire stage space was great. Although it was my first EJC, everyone I spoke with said that the experience in 2012 was quite great.
Each night, there was a live international band. People often were dancing late into the morning. If a juggler was tired of dancing, he/she could walk next door to the renegade tent. The renegade was a wild adventure, especially when hosted by Ian Deady, a street performer who resides in Italy. Ian knows how to keep the audience engaged at all times. If no one volunteered for a number, he would pick someone at random (usually an intoxicated observer) and proceed to do an interview – great fun. As a math teacher, I appreciated this newfound formula of life during the late nights: Juggling Club Renegade + Polish Vodka = Crazy Fun. Of course, the renegade tent was occupied during the nonstop 53 hour show by Rumpel since it was the 35th EJC. Rumpel held a crowd the entire time as he jumped rope on a unicycle, swung poi with rubber snakes, and told stories of his history with Cirque du Soleil while eating. Next year, he can definitely do at least “ten more minutes”, his catch phrase that helped him get through.
Another impressive thing was the organizer’s ability to use the resources of the city of Lublin. Security was great as they protected and secured the site (as opposed to policing it). With the EJC band, all public transportation was free. This made it really convenient to get to the city center of Lublin. The oldtown of Lublin was also hosting a highline festival. Watching local residents walk a slack line from the second story window of one old building over a public courtyard to another was quite exciting entertainment. The opening special show was even held in the city center. The show featured an aerial circus troupe that performed a steam punk themed show featuring many numbers involving the Russian cradle. Jugglers were encouraged to busk within the city helping some of the jugglers fund their festival experience. Moreover, the fire space was actually located just outside the EJC grounds because the people of Lublin love fire shows. The fire gala, featuring Spiral – a fire performer from California- at the end of the festival took place in the city center as well, bookending the opening show.
Speaking of incorporating the local city, the ability of the EJC to include all participating countries left an impression on me. I attended the European Juggling Associations (EJA) general assembly meeting. It was cool to learn that every European country is given the opportunity to have representation within the EJA. Even the USA has a representative, Paul Anderson, a very chill and cool guy. I wish I was able to get to know him better while I was there. Unfortunately, the EJA assembly was anticlimactic as they were not able to vote for the location of EJC 2015 at the end. As of now, there are no candidates! Next year, the meeting will vote for both the 2015 and the 2016 locations of the EJC.
However, we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. In 2013, the EJC will be held in Toulouse, France. It will be located at the exact same site of the French Convention I attended two weeks prior to Lublin. This location is absolutely perfect. It’s a huge park, contains four gyms, not counting the enormous building where the Le Lido Circus School is located. This also means that there will probably be performances from the students of Lido, which I promise will be incredible. There are grocery stores within walking distance and it’s only a ten minute walk from the subway station. During the 2013 preview show, the EJC organizers informed us that “although the world may end in 2012, we believe that juggling will continue.” I hope to see you all there juggling next year!
Proud Member of the Kansas City Juggling Club
p.s. Special thanks to Luke Burrage who photographed most of the images.