Kellin Quinn’s Surreal Championship

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What 15-year-old juggler would open his attempt to win the IJA Juniors title disguised as Rene Magritte’s painting, The Son Of Man? (You remember: the one of a guy in an overcoat, red tie and bowler hat, his face blocked by a large green apple hovering in mid-air.)

grazioso_magritte_01When the curtain opened on Kellin Quinn at the 2012 IJA festival, he was wearing a red tie, vest, bowler hat, etc., holding a white picture frame around his face, which was blocked by a green “apple.” His other hand held a cane. He was standing in a chair shaped like a human hand. Surreal! Magritte would have been proud. (The surrealist effect was highlighted when doffing the bowler revealed Kellin’s wild nest of brownish hair.)

There followed some slick hat, apple (a ball that had been attached to the bowler’s brim) and cane juggling, classic “gentleman juggler” stuff – mixed with a little comic magic, the apple not quite disappearing into the hat. But at one point when the hat should have landed on top of the cane, it fell to the floor – to be kicked quickly back up into the pattern. Was this a bad omen? If a drop comes early in the simpler stuff, is the rest of the act going to be a Big Embarrassment?

kellin and flying chickensKellin cannot remember when he learned to juggle, or who taught him, which is not surprising, as his mother, Jessica Hentoff, runs the Circus Harmony circus school in St Louis, Missouri (“Peace through Pyramids; Harmony through Handsprings”). His brother Keaton, 18, is at the circus school in Montreal, and his sister Elliana, 20, is Ringling Bros’ youngest ever human cannonball. So it could have been anyone who taught him to juggle about 10 years ago. (Kellin’s real name, in the IJA Roster, is Kellin Hentoff-Killian, but he uses his middle name Quinn to make a memorable stage name.)

“But I did not really get into juggling until about two or three years ago when I saw jugglers on YouTube and realized: I should be doing that,” Kellin said. Asked if he felt odd as a teenager focusing on something not many other teenagers got into, he responded: “My friends can all juggle because most are in the circus school, but they are not jugglers. Most of my friends are circus people, so we are all doing things other people cannot do.”

Richard Kennison, who has coached a number of champion jugglers and himself got an IJA service award at the 2012 festival, is a coach at the school and gives Kellin private lessons: “He comments on new tricks, suggests changes, choreographs acts, helps with techniques, and says picky things about my act,” says Kellin.

DSC_0116Richard’s attention and a lot of practice have paid off. Kellin won a Groundhog Juggling Fest “Phil” award when he was 10 years old in 2006 – as a juggling cook throwing around vegetables, whisks, pots and pans – and another when he was 15. He plans to return to Atlanta in about seven years to try to become the first juggler to win a Phil in three different decades. He also has the IJA Seniors in his sights, but he won’t commit to when. He plans to go professional, and maybe follow his brother to Montreal.

“I have had a lot of time to juggle because I have been home schooled. A lot of other jugglers were home schooled: Wes Peden, Tony Pezzo. I guess my only other real interest beside juggling is the Internet.”

Back on stage in 2012, Kellin went from one “apple” to two apples, to cane and hat, and then – briefly and cleanly – 5 objects: three apples, the cane, and the hat. The original picture frame became three white rectangles juggled and manipulated as rings and then five frames juggled as five rings.

DSC_0619He then stood on his hand-chair and juggled seven balls, perfectly, segueing from that impressive feat to… one ball, a small red one thrown from hand to hand, presented as if it were a perfect follow-on to a perfect seven ball routine.

“Kellin’s sense of humor is subtle,” his mother commented. “It is amazing he can carry that humor when juggling in front of a big crowd.”

The red ball became part of a snappy four-ball routine done to the beat of a metronome Kellin had set running on stage. Then a quick five clubs with pirouette and – the climax – a flashy and flawless three-club routine that made the hall go wild. A round off, a back-flip, a bow, and Kellin was off the stage.

The attentive reader will note that there were no more drops, which is pretty much what Kellin had to do to win against some very tough competition.

Look out, Seniors.

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