Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 3



The Beauty of Three Ball Juggling

IJA/Maverick Media. 38 minutes VHS. $25.

With dozens of juggling videos in one hand and Roget's Thesaurus in the other, Robert Peck has created a stimulating and inspiring new look at the beauty of three ball juggling. This 40-minute Maverick Media/IJA video examines three ball juggling by breaking it down into well-organized technical and artistic categories.

It begins with the cascade pattern and its simple variations - reverse cascade, chops, clawing and over the head. From there the video moves into the more technical categories - juggling two in one hand to allow improvisation with the other, showering, placements and traps, ball rolling, floor bouncing and body bouncing. In addition, Peck interweaves the elements of other performance art forms such as dance, magic, mime and story telling. There is even a short section devoted to dropping.

The clips used in the video are mostly from competitions and workshops which took place during IJA festivals in the past four or five years. In addition, the video pays homage to history by showing footage of some of the greatest three ballers such as Bobby May and W. C. Fields. It shows that the classic moves they created are still around to be used and modified by jugglers today.

Finally, the video shows us the types of tricks the future may hold with a few clips from the Baltimore Three Ball Open, a not-so-polished form of competition where the participants have a fixed amount of time to show off everything they know how to do, and are even encouraged to try things they don't know how to do.

This video uses examples which demonstrate a wide range of difficulty levels. For the beginning three ball juggler, it acts as a library of new tricks to learn, as well as an informative guide to developing artistic individuality. For the advanced, it will reinforce confidence and inspire diversity at the level of performance. Even the non-juggler would walk away from this video with a reformed appreciation for three ball juggling as a true art form.

Although most of the clips matched the topics in the narrative, it probably would have been considerably less exhausting if just a few complete routines were selected which illustrated each of the ideas covered. The trouble is, (the main point which the video is trying to convey) the successful three ball juggler is typically one who integrates all of these concepts into one technically polished, and artistically elegant routine.

Aside from one brief break about halfway through, showing footage from Club Renegade in Denver, the video is fast-paced. On top of all the quick visual images, the hyper-poetic narrative, filled with lyric vocabulary and alliteration, is almost too much for the human brain to handle in one 40-minute sitting. In fact, during the first viewing, I was only able to assimilate the visual images and had to watch it again to capture the narrative.

In spite of all that, The Beauty of Three Ball Juggling is an informative and enjoyable video which shows us that the range of things that can be accomplished with three balls is only limited by our own imagination and creativity.

by Scott McFarlane

Anthony Gatto... To Be the Best

Gatto/Hill Productions. 35 minutes VHS. $35.

For anyone interested in numbers juggling, Anthony Gatto's records and routines stand as something approaching the Holy Grail. The smoothness, precision and apparent ease in his work leaves one almost dumbfounded. Anyone who wants to sit back and watch a hugely talented and disciplined juggler at work will be interested in this video. But unfortunately, there are a number of problems in this production that don't showcase Gatto's talents in the best way.

Much of the energy for the tape doesn't come from Gatto, but the hard rock music in the background. The format for the tape is surprisingly crude: the camera records Gatto hard at work in a number of practice sessions on a Las Vegas YMCA basketball court. The producer simply put up the camera at some distance and began shooting. Gatto makes only the slightest nod to the "audience" at the end of sequences.

Dressed in running shorts and tank top, Gatto occasionally talks in voice-over, but shares little insight with the viewer, and almost sounds a little distracted. This approach may have been a deliberate choice on the director's part, maybe to give it a more casual pace, but it distances Gatto's personality as well as the subtleties and intricacies of his routines.

There is no dearth of patterns for us to ooh and aah over: 5 club variations; 7 and 8 ring patterns; 7 balls in body throws, multiplex-style, and showers; 7 rings while bouncing a ball on his forehead and developing "breakdowns;" 6 club breakdowns; 7 and 8 balls; 8 club flash; 11 ring flash, and so forth. The camera work in these sections is clean and the framing shows off the patterns to good effect.

The color video quality is high, with an almost constant musical background. Some slow motion is used, but the "after-image" effect makes it difficult to see clearly the details in hands or objects. In the end, we're left with the feeling that slow motion, "wipes," multiple frame, etc., were simply used to inject some life into what is otherwise a mere mechanical record of Gatto's accomplishments.

The final few minutes are excerpts from Gatto's Vegas act and show his growing ability to project something more than just flashes of juggling to his audiences. But the basic thrust of Gatto's on-stage persona is to move fast and smooth; he is so fast and smooth that I'm sure many in his audiences are unaware of how difficult such skills are to attain.

Ultimately, this video could use a clearer purpose. As a teaching aid (even for advanced jugglers), it falls short of clarity and even basic breakdowns of component parts in a pattern. As entertainment, it doesn't pay enough attention to the viewer, choosing instead to give a "through the keyhole" look at a master juggler at work.

For those of us who like to collect and view snips of great juggling, and for those who might use it as a teaching resource, this is a video to purchase. But how you use it will rest solely in your hands.

by Craig Turner


Contact Juggling

By James Ernest. Ernest Graphics Press, Second edition 1991. Black & white, 94 pages soft cover. $10.

Here's the image: it's Club Renegade, back in 1988 at the Denver IJA convention, and the time is well into the morning hours. A small figure makes his way onto the stage, and using just one large red stage ball, exhibits such control over it that the crowd goes utterly, insanely wild. A good portion of this "juggling" becomes many viewers' favorite part of the 1988 Convention videotape.

"Contact Juggling" by James Ernest is the only book currently produced that exclusively addresses this skill of handheld ball rolling and manipulations.

Ernest differentiates contact juggling other forms of juggling by defining it as "manipulations of single objects or object groups involving very little tossing or spinning." While this leaves the meaning open for clarification and further definition, it does allow it to stand apart from toss, balance and gyroscopic juggling.

While this book is surely to be of the greatest interest to the juggling world, the author has left his market open to the public by including some basic descriptions of the different forms of juggling. This book would appeal to anyone who has witnessed an individual possess control over a single ball, rolling it around seemingly by magic, such as Michael Moschen's "stunt" work for David Bowie in the film Labyrinth.

The book has been designed to be an instructional workbook, with multiple illustrations scattered about the text. It starts with basic (and helpful) warmup exercises to let the reader feel comfortable with the smooth gliding movements found in all forms of contact juggling. Basic one-ball moves are discussed in detail, and then those basics are combined and altered until it seems that the ball has a mind of its own, rolling and maintaining contact with the body.

Two balls are discussed next, and many techniques discussed are one ball moves done in each hand. Then the real fun begins. Ernest explains how hands exchange two balls in a flowing transition.

A contact juggling skill that has always impressed me is "palm circles." Rotating two balls in the palms of hands has a mesmerizing quality, and the author discusses not only two but up to four rotating balls in each hand!

Other multiple ball manipulations that Ernest discusses include the walking cascade, an incredible looking trick that makes the balls look like they are rolling out in one direction while the actually stay in the same place. An especially appealing technique is a cascade done with contact juggling; the balls seem to be continually dropping onto the tops of both hands.

There are four appendixes in the back of Contact Juggling: a materials listing with suggestions on the types of balls to use (though it is sorely missing the names and numbers of propmakers, the author does suggest places you might be able to find crystal balls); an introduction to the three-ball cascade and devil sticks; Understanding Juggling, some very interesting insights into the juggling world; and a glossary (this is useful because so many techniques and skills presented here are different from any the average juggler would come upon otherwise.)

While the information contained in the book is worth the price alone, the physical attributes make it one of the best-designed juggling instruction books available. In an 8 1/2 x 11 format, the book is bound so that you can lay the pages open in front of you on the floor or a desk, and can practice while looking at the illustrations. The type and illustrations (drawn by the author) are very clean and easy to understand.

The main drawback to this book is that after working with some of the tricks mentioned here, the book seems to run short of ideas and advanced techniques. Overall, Contact Juggling is a great introduction to possibly the most fascinating and mesmerizing juggling skills you can possess.

by Ted Alspach

The Juggler

A novel by Rachilde. 215 pages soft cover. Available through Rutgers University Press; 109 Church St.; New Brunswick, NJ 08901. $12.95.

The republication of Rachilde's novel "The Juggler," now translated into English for the first time since its original publication in 1900, marks a rediscovery of the prolific French author Marguerite Eymery Vallette (known as Rachilde), notorious in her time but eclipsed since. Witty, passionate, and elegantly composed, "The Juggler" weaves together complex theories while maintaining a poetic, mythical quality.

Juggling historians might appreciate the emergence of a new image for the juggler in literature. In Rachilde's work, juggling keeps its traditional flavor of mystery and exoticism while playing a central role both literally and metaphorically. The aristocratic heroine, Eliante Donalger, is in fact a juggler and amateur performer - possibly the first hobbyist juggler to appear in a work of fiction. Though unusual for a woman in her position, her juggling skills do not exceed the realm of possibility. Her act consists primarily of juggling three daggers, with a dramatic shoulder throw to finish.

"She juggled very simply, but really, with heavy knives, quite sharp, and what would have been ordinary for an artiste at the Folies Bergere or Olympia, seemed amazing for a society woman." She also performs flamenco dancing with exceptional style and expression (look out, Francis Brunn!)

Wrapped in an air of mystery and intrigue, the singular Eliante Donalger dominates the novel as well as Parisian society. The story is actually a prolonged tete-a-tete between the widowed, worldly Eliante and the young, idealistic Leon Reille, a medical student who becomes obsessed with unraveling the secrets of Eliante's personality. Yet he is almost afraid to learn too much about her past and what it has made her. Loathe to spoil the mysterious power of her attraction by giving away the secrets of her soul, yet dying to pass on her knowledge to a younger generation, Eliante draws out the drama while Leon urges her to perform her finishing trick before she is ready to pass the hat.

Eliante's avoidance of physical passion is bound up with her artistic desire for immortality, a yearning which increases as her youth fades. During Leon's first visit, she torments him by claiming to be in love with a life-size alabaster jug which "has stayed young because he has never cried his secret to anyone."

Eliante's fantastical imagination leads her to channel her sexual energy into her artistic pursuits - juggling, dancing, writing - and she seems satisfied with platonic relationships when it comes to humans. "I find it absurd that a man cannot have an intimate chat with a woman... even one he loves." While feminists might applaud these futuristic speeches, Rachilde leaves many ambiguities, implying that Eliante's philosophies are self-defeating:

"Love, everywhere love! and she, the great actress, or the great victim of her own juggling, perhaps still did not know what it was, practically speaking. Vibrant and above the earth like a flaming torch consuming itself, she kept it all and yet dreamed of giving it all." Whether Eliante's view of love is truly her ideal or just a response to an imperfect society which typecasts women is left for the reader to decide.

Eliante's juggling act symbolizes both her isolation from the rest of society and her contradictory desire to communicate and entertain. While Leon admires her skillful manipulation of daggers, he laments the fact that they separate her from the rest of society: "...she juggled to please herself. It was as though one could feel another blade both perfidious and passive vibrate in her. She amused herself naively, absolutely, with the unusual pleasure she procured for them, and she needed too the acute desire of the looks focused on her, all the vibration of an atmosphere charged with amorous electricity."

For Eliante, the act of inspiring love overshadows the details of love-making, and it is in her role as entertainer that she finds the heroic and artistic parts of herself. Eliante goes to bizarre lengths to fulfill her creative desires, leading us on to a macabre conclusion which might leave readers wishing that plastic clubs had been invented 100 years earlier.

Rachilde's characters are so colorfully drawn that it is easy to lose track of "The Juggler's" larger pattern, but clearly this is a work of ideas which invites the reader to ponder the balance between love and art, providing rich food for thought through few definite conclusions. The beauty of the language (even in translation) must be experienced first-hand, and the use of juggling contributes much to this highly unusual and inventive novel.

by Cindy Marvell

Reviews / Index, Vol. 43, No. 3 / jis@juggling.org
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