Eric Longequel, juggling & diabolo – ep15 Juggle Jabber

Eric Longequel from France is a performer with compagie EaEo and Defracto. His original movement based juggling and funny diabolo character has gotten him to Cirque de Demain twice and 6 times into the jugglers top40! We talk about the influential people in Eric’s life and the difference between juggling and character on stage.

Presented by eJuggle

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Created by Daniel Simu –
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People mentioned:
Manuel Mitasch
Antonin Harz
Guillaume de Martinet
Minh Tam Kaplan
Morganne Cosquer
Jean-Daniel Fricker
Pich Alexandre
Johan Swartvagher
Gaëlle Bisellach-Roig
Jay Gilligan
Luke Wilson

Edited transcript of the interview:

Can you summarize how you started juggling and got here?

I started juggling when I was 12 because I met a guy at my school who would juggle. We would play some games with tennis balls in the playground, he was able to juggle 3 balls and he taught me. The next year I found a hobbyist circus school, and from then on I juggled a lot. It was never professional until I was 24 years old, after I finished my studies as an engineer.
It was a turning point. I could try to find a job, I had my diploma and all that but I also had an opportunity to make a show with Antonin (Harz) so I went for that, hoping that it would work and that’s how it started. And then you make a show, you practice more stuff, you meet people, I met the Belgiums from Ea Eo and we made a show together, got to meet Guillaume (de Martinet) and now I’ve been a professional for 13 years.

The show with Antonin got you into Cirque de Demain?

Yes, but it took some time. We started to make it in 2005, just to make it not to perform it. It was our first show so of many things we had no idea how to do them. We had no idea about costumes, no idea about music, we had some ideas about diabolo but the all the rest was very complicated. The show was ready by the end of 2006, and then it took us something like two more years before we made a short version of it, an act. And then only in 2009 I dared to send the video to Cirque de Demain.

It’s rare for artists who don’t come from circus schools to make it into such festivals. Did Antonin study circus?

No. He also did some engineer studies, and just like me he switched at one point. It was quite reassuring for us to be 2 people, sharing our doubts and having difficulties together around the same things such as costumes, how do we sell a show – should we make a video, should we send it, should we call people and try to sell the show to them – it’s quite difficult when you don’t go to a school because you don’t get into a circus network that easily, you have to find a way in. For us that way was through the street festivals Chalons Festival (Chalons dans la rue), Vivacity festival, and Aurelliac festival which are all kind-of the same. These three big festivals are easy to get booked for.

But hard to get noticed at. I’ve been to Aurelliac and Chalons and there is just so much…

You don’t have to be there and be the best and be the hype, you can also get there and find like 15 contracts for smaller street festivals in France, we have many little festivals in France, and if you have this then it’s okay. Things are starting to move and you get to know people and people get to see your show. Yes it’s hard to be noticed at this big festivals, but you don’t have to be the super hype for it to work. There are many many theatre programmers there, and things can easily go well at such a festival if you don’t fuck up.

In this year of creation, when you did not yet know what and how, how did you sustain yourself?

I worked as a math teacher on the side. I was living in Paris which was extremely expensive, so before I went on the big adventure I made a deal with my parents, the deal was that I would try for one year, and after one year I would have a discussion with them to see if I should try for another year. For that they agreed to help me financially, as long as I would also work. I would teach a lot of maths, but it was really not enough to pay for the minimum rent in Paris. I had to be in Paris because all of my very little network was in Paris so if I had left for another place I could not have done any show.
In the end it took one year and a half for me to be able to pay my rent. I went to the first year talk with my parents and they thought I was doing quite good, I was getting hired for another festival and the machine started rolling. So thanks to them I am a juggler now.

I read that you were training with Minh Tam Kaplan and Guillaume de Martinet in Paris, and later with Jean-Daniel Fricker and Johan Swartvagher, people who you still work with today. How did you attract such important artists into your life?

Minh Tam was actually the first important person I met, because he had already been a professional for a few years. Guillaume was there as well and tried to become a professional and was asking Minh Tam for advice and stuff like this. That’s how I got to meet Guillaume and Minh Tam in the very small network of Parisian jugglers. There was also Pich (Alexandre) doing ball manipulation and he was also trying to become professional. By the way it was Pich who recommended me to go to Vivacity, and we went there together. So there was a whole team of Parisian jugglers trying to make a living out of juggling and we could support each other a lot. Pich, Minh Tam and Guillaume are people with whom I exchanged a lot on the subject.
You mentioned Johan, I met him randomly. I was lost and not knowing how to make things so I took some workshops, and one of them I took with Gaëlle Bisellach-Roig, a very important juggler from France. I met Johan at the workshop, and he told me he was organizing a workshop so I went there as well and this is where I met Jean-Daniel Fricker. I took 3 workshops with Jean-Daniel and this was a big change in my juggling career. I learned from him some stuff that is still useful today. Like how to be on stage, how to behave body-wise, how to move in a certain way. It’s hard to put into words. I did twice 10 days of workshops with him, it was very intense, and still now I can feel this thing that we did in the workshops, it’s still in my body.

I’ve been very lucky, I’ve always met people who helped me. With Antonin it was super fun to work in the beginning, he was very clever about diabolo. And then the Belgium guys (Sander de Cuyper, Jordaan de Cuyper, Bram Dobbelaere), they were not afraid to make a big show and make mistakes. So everyone has been very helpful and I hope it carries on like this. I’ll be making a new project with Johan in 3 years…

You can plan so far ahead?

Yes well, you decide to start the project in 3 years and as soon as you said that you start thinking about it, talking about it, sending emails about ideas. And of course you have the professional thing where you go past theatres and let them know that you’re working on a new project, asking if they want to help, participate or pre-buy the show, the whole commercial process… So as soon as we said we’ll make a show it’s like you already started…

Is twice 10 days of workshop enough to learn how to be on stage?

It’s not the only thing I’ve done, I’ve done many other workshops. Hip-hop, dance, clowning… But these two workshops were very special. It’s not much, 20 days, but it was such an intense change in my juggling. It was very life-changing.
It was an intense way, a very deep way of speaking and working with the body and the body with juggling. For me it was really.. I didn’t expect it – before I went to the workshop I thought I would hate it, because it was very weird and unusual, but in the end it there was a lot of freedom and in the exercises we could improvise a lot and explore lots of things. I took other workshops, plenty of them and they helped me a lot, but definitely these two with Jean-Daniel were very special.

What do you practice when you train?

These days I don’t know exactly how I practice. For a while I was improvising a lot, being in body qualities, trying to find the right throw within this quality of movement. Or sometimes starting from a cool movement and trying to put balls in this movement, and finding the juggling that would make sense with this movement and that it would not just stick on top of it. Like when you roll on the floor and do a cascade, it is not very intricate. I like movements that that make me catch the ball that make me roll on the floor. It was half research, like very mentally – I have this movement, what body throw should I do, how can I make one more throw to make thing a bit more rhythmical – and also a lot of improvisation like throwing randomly and trying to understand which throw was good and which to do again.
Nowadays I can feel the limits of this process. Most of the time when I improvise and I do something which I think is good, I have a hard time reproducing it a second time. It felt good, but when I do it again I’m like “ah not so sure it was this throw, maybe the body shape was not like this or I throw a bit later or earlier…”. So it’s very hard now for me to create material, new sequences. Also I am having this question: Why would I make a new sequence again?

I suppose you have a lot of material already

Well I don’t have so much. I think I can produce more of the same thing I have, but I’m wondering why would I do it. I have a hard time finding the motivation. I remember that two months ago I found a nice sequence, which I have forgotten now because it was just more of the same usual stuff which I usually do. I’m trying to do something new and it’s fucking hard because I’m not so young and inspired any more, so it’s really hard to avoid repeating the same habits again and again. Now is a bit of a turning point as well.

Why do you want to make something new?

It’s a good question, maybe to keep it exciting? Although it doesn’t look rotten when I do it… I don’t want my juggling to look like “oh, probably when he used to do it 10 years ago it was cool, but now it feels less intense, he doesn’t do it so well, it’s less powerful…”

But don’t you get better at the material you practice for 10 years?

In the beginning, yes. But after a while you get lazier. You move like this and think “oh it’s fine.” I don’t have to move so much, or at first you jump on the floor and crash and catch the ball here, and then later you just slide on the floor and catch the ball there because you don’t want to drop and don’t want to hurt yourself. So it’s hard to maintain a quality in the juggling. Especially with this kind of juggling which is a lot about how you move the body and how you shape it and how you feel inside, I rely a lot on my feeling – that I feel this movement is beautiful or whatever – so it’s not so fixed. It should be, but it is not the way it is unfortunately so I can get lazy over time. So I want to keep the juggling alive. Not to get a fixed thing that in reality is but a rotten little baguette.

So that’s the first reason. I wish I could be like a musician in a way. After they practice piano for 10 years and they’re fucking killers, then they have these tools and then you can go and improvise. But I don’t know how they keep being fresh. Because now when I improvise juggling I have a hard time being fresh, and I’m reproducing the same old thing. And when you perform an old sequence because it’s safe and you feel comfortable with it, or because it’s good for this moment in the show? So I guess that the more material I have, and the more I get to choose what I actually want to do, it becomes less of a default choice. I think it’s exciting to push the juggling, to discover new things.
These days I’m working with Jay Gilligan, and it’s pretty exciting because he works totally different than me. He is all into weird objects and objects that don’t exist. It’s a very new inspiration for me.

This is “How to welcome the aliens”? Is it still in progress?

Yes it’s in progress, it’s coming out in April.

How do you approach shows? The diabolo solo Brillantine et Moccasins is much more about a character progression than about movement, do you still work with character like this?

The diabolo solo is very old, I made it before I took the workshop with Jean-Daniel. I was not so involved in the body work by then. It happened after Guillaume did the audition in Lido. We were at a convention, there was an open stage, we set the challenge to make an act for it in one hour with no music. Guillaume helped me to sketch the diabolo act. I had this character, very still and arrogant, because at the time it was a common joke between Minh Tam, Guillaume and me to do a trick and then show off all this humor. So I made the sketch of the act and it took years and years before I finished it because it was my first act. Morganne helped me a lot with the direction of it. When I performed it in Brussels, the version you saw, I had this fun exercise: I had this diabolo act with the character and a ball act with the movement, and the challenge was to make a show that starts with diabolo and ends with balls but doesn’t look to weird. I only performed it once.

Now I don’t work so much with this character anymore, although I still perform the diabolo act from time to time. Contrary to the ball juggling I don’t fear that it gets old. I mean, the older the better. It’s always a pleasure to perform it again, especially because all the tricks that are in it – they used to be new 10 years ago, now they are really old so it is becoming some kind of very vintage diabolo act even in the technique which is now totally from the past.

In the previous show with Ea Eo, m2, there was a lot of character work. Is this also present in the new show All The Fun?

The new show has no character at all. It is what I like to do now, to go on stage and not have a character, I am just a juggler who does juggling performance. We are very natural and it’s very very juggling focused. I like to see a good show with character, but I don’t like when the juggling doesn’t make any difference. If there is a character I like it when the character and the juggling say 2 different things, and therefor create a whole thing together. I think it’s really fun when the juggling gives you extra information on the character, or the other way around. As well I think that the whole “character versus juggling” is not a good way of seeing things. It is not so efficient to think about a show this way. The juggler Luke Wilson used to say “the technique is the character” and I guess that for my diabolo act I could argue that this is the case. So for this show there is no character.

What do you wish to be doing in 10 years from now?

These days I am directing or advising a lot of shows and I like it a lot. I like it when some jugglers ask me to come to help them with a show, and they show the juggling material. I like to try to understand really well what the juggling is, and what the strength of it is, and dig and push to enhance this material. It is really interesting to try to understand the juggling of other jugglers, and it is really inspiring as well. It goes like “oh you did this trick, I think this trick is about being beautiful/being funny/whatever, so maybe we can try it like this” or “I think this is the kind of trick that if you do it twice it will be super nice” etc. What I like as an outside eye is that the juggling from others is really an enigma that I have to solve. In the beginning it is just juggling, some technical stuff, but there is always something hidden in the technical stuff. These jugglers made this juggling for a reason, they like this body throw for a reason and they put all these body throws together for many reasons. It’s nice to try to understand and suggest to try to do it with one ball/do it as a duet/try it with specific music to find ways to enhance or create a contrast the feeling that is already present in the technique. It’s all about trying to understand what they do, and help them figure out what it is as well. As a juggler I know that I don’t always understand what I like, and it takes the help of an outside eye to say “maybe it is for this reason.”

So I imagine you only work with juggling based shows

Yes, I don’t feel so good to direct a theater or dance show, I don’t have the tools.

Daniel Simu

I am a juggler and circus performer from the Netherlands. I travel all over Europe to learn, create, discuss, perform and organise, and I am always looking for fun projects to join! Feel free to contact me about anything :)

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