Juggle This NYC! June 5-8, 2014
By Viveca Gardiner
Hundreds of jugglers descended on New York City for Juggle This! a four-day festival of juggling games, workshops, shows, lectures, panel discussions, and other activities.
The city’s twelfth festival kicked off with an afternoon of open juggling in Bryant Park. The morning was rainy, but by midday, the sun was shining, and the air was full of flying objects. Stephanie Monseu, co-founder of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus hosted a free welcome show that drew a crowd of 300 onlookers to watch acts ranging from ten-year-old Bennett Santora, who was cheered on by a very enthusiastic fan club of fourth graders, to two-time Amateur Night at the Apollo winner Michael Karas. Bennett worked with balls, showing off his “Snowman series” of stacked kick-ups, and Michael “got his freak on” with clubs. Team Circus presented a duo hand-balancing act, Brooklyn juggler Kyle Petersen juggled while hula hooping on a unicycle, Robin Hu played with one to three diabolos, and Sean Blue closed the show juggling seven balls on stage after running through the audience juggling three balls. Stephanie showed off her bullwhip skills and hosted the Bindlestiff Intergalactic Donut-Eating Contest, in which two children competed to take the most bites from a dangling donut without using their hands.
Friday night, the festival picked up again at Barnard College. Columbia University employee David M. invited the NYC jugglers in last year, and this was Ross Berenson’s second year organizing the festival at this Manhattan venue. Amateurs and professionals, children and adults, gathered to learn new skills, trade tricks, and have fun sharing their love of this 4,000 year-old pastime. In addition to the balls, clubs, and rings of traditional toss juggling, people were seen manipulating yo-yos, kendamas, cigar boxes, diabolos, hula hoops, and other less-common props. In fact, one vendor’s table was full of what looked like medieval weaponry, all designed to be juggled. The room was ringed with vendors, and instead of a raffle, the organizers offered a limited number of more valuable items in a silent auction. The greatest prize was a one-of-a-kind Jim Moore photograph of Philippe Petit and Francis Brunn, each spinning a ball. Jim Moore was the photographer who accompanied Petit on his wire walk across the Twin Towers in 1974.
During the festival, assigned coaches roamed the gym floor to help newbies learn to juggle. More advanced participants attended workshops on site swap literacy, squeeze and catch and squeeze patterns, weird six-club passing patterns, hula hooping, lasso, cigar box manipulation, multiplex ball kick-ups, and other skills. Erik Åberg gave two well-attended and fascinating lectures, one on Paul Cinquevalli and one on the history of the juggling club, which was enhanced by the presence of Jay Green, who spoke about inventing the modern, plastic club.
Other special workshops included a panel discussion about how to make a demo reel, which was produced by Circus Now, moderated by Adam Wooley, and included panelists Andrea Honis (CircusTalk), Colleen Piquette (Cirque-tacular), and Monique Martin (SummerStage), and a four-hour, two-day session called “Create with Sean Blue,” in which students learned new material, tools, and techniques to help build their juggling performance and develop a better understanding of how tricks come about and evolve.
Saturday night features not one but two shows: the Show Spectacular was hosted by television and Broadway veteran Michael Davis, whose dry comedy contrasted with his wet routines—he spat ping pong balls and plopped the contents of a tub of butter on his forehead and somehow convinced a volunteer to try the butter “headbounce” too. The show kicked off with cheerful yo-yo player Justin Weber. Isaac Rockafellow juggled balls, most impressively back-dropping his three to five-ball pattern behind his back and immediately back-crossing them back into a normal pattern. Seven-year-old Imri Rom cleanly controlled one and two diabolos. Kelsey Strauch gave a dramatic display manipulating, rolling, and juggling hoops, Mitch Lustig showed his skill on Cyr wheel. Jacob D’Eustachio debuted a new curious character who appeared charmingly confused by his own mastery of hat and balls. Sweden’s Erik Åberg showed off the ghost cube manipulation that has made him an international YouTube sensation. Susan Voyticky and Matthew Greenfield showed a lyrically beautiful duo adagio. “Cowboy from the Bronx” Angelo Iodice closed the show with dazzling lasso roping. The audience loved the wide variety of acts, which was show producer slash festival organizer Ross’s goal.
Afterwards, jugglers over 21 kept the fun going with an anything goes “Jiggle This” show, hosted by local comedian Harrison Greenbaum. The show was a perfect mix of high skill and low concept, kicking off with two incredible and incredibly disgusting blockhead combination tricks in a row. Mikey Manoguerra drew an elephant with ink from a brush stuck in his nose, and then Keith “Bindlestiff” Nelson attempted to land a ball on a blockhead kendama. Kathryn Carr displayed her skill at scissor throws—no, not scissor catches, since a terrified volunteer was holding the two clubs into which she hurled a third. Isaac Rockafellow set up a ring catapault, and then Richard “Reeses” Kohut volunteered to try catching a ring tossed at his, uh, backside, which was satisfyingly amusing if, ultimately, unsuccessful. Jason Katz balanced precariously on a stool so the crowd could see his upside down and between-the-leg ball pattern. Jacob D’Eustachio accepted the crowd’s nomination to “do something,” by attempting seven clubs under the maybe seven-foot ceiling. Erik Åberg suavely demonstrated a skill no juggler will ever need: using just one hand to knot and put on a tie. Jonathan Perry closed the show with an audience participation club routine.
After a late night, jugglers straggled back for Sunday’s activities, which kicked off with an unexpectedly international joggling competition. Three Canadian jogglers roundly defeated three Americans. Hey, we’ll get ‘em next year. (And by “we,” I certainly don’t mean me, so some of you should start practicing.) Sunday was so packed with juggling, workshops, and games, that it was hard to see the festival end. Even exhausted after long days and late nights of juggling, people were still sad to say good-bye.
Most jugglers probably don’t realize the amount of work, risk, and money that goes into producing a festival. Organizers Ross and David barely even got a chance to juggle. They weren’t complaining though. David explained: “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to give back and make it happen for others. Look around the gym, and there’s so much happiness in the room…I’m sure my wife is not thrilled about the money I put into it, but it’s a small price to pay to make so many people happy. Tell me: where else can you get such return on investment?”
The ezine editor regrets some of the content that was previously contained in this article.
Opening show picts courtesy of Bryant Park Corporation. Stage show photos copyright Jason Paul. Other photos copyright Robin Hu.