Three of the four juggling acts in the 10th Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain (Circus of Tomorrow), held in Paris in early February, won silver medals.
Krisztian Kristof of Budapest, Hungary, a 17-year old with a family background in circus, worked in the Kris Kremo style. He began his act with a bowler hat routine to Michael Jackson music, and followed with three balls and three red silk top hats. His cigar box manipulations included a triple and quadruple pirouette catch of one box. Kristof made his circus debut last winter in Budapest.
The second silver medal winner was 20-year-old Rafael de Carlo (Rodriguez) from Havana, Cuba. De Carlo began with a ball routine, building to seven balls a la Popovich. Using baseballs, he finished his opening by catching the balls in the pockets of a belt around his waist. Dressed as a soccer player, the dynamic de Carlo next performed with up to five soccer balls, mixing juggling moves with highly athletic somersaults.
De Carlo's training at the Cuban circus school has benefitted during the last five years from an exchange program of teachers and students with the Moscow circus school.
The Russians introduced a completely different act in the form of the third silver medal winner, Guennadi Kil. His act was a mime musical parody juggling small balls. Accompanied by Russian folk music and Western music, this 22-year-old performer was a poet at his craft, demonstrating many original tricks with three balls. He finished with a nice six ball routine.
This year's festival included for the first time a junior circus performer's competition, "The Circus of the Future," featuring performers under 17 years old. Two Chinese jugglers from the Peking circus school manipulating jars were the gold medal winners of this event.
A special junior prize was awarded to 12-year-old West German juggler Sabrina Fackelli. She juggled with five balls, six hoops and four tennis rackets. Her parents, the Two Fackellis, have a club passing act and were in the 1970s members of the East German troupe, the Five Majongs.
A violent Mediterranean ocean wind swept away the famous December rendezvous in Monte Carlo. Circus fans feared the worst: the cancellation of the 12th International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. It had been planned to take place under a new tent of a new design. But before the semi-solid roof of the new structure was in place, it was completely torn to pieces in the wind in a single blow.
The festival organizing committee attacked the problem with courage. They had to not only find a new tent, but to contact each artist to see if their appearances could be rescheduled. Most were able to reschedule for the end of January, and an Italian tent company said two months would be sufficient for reconstruction of a big top.
Finally, on Jan. 29 at 8:30 p.m., the immense big top (gray on the outside and blue on the inside) trembled with the excitement of 4,500 circus fans awaiting the arrival of Prince Ranier to begin the festival.
Of the jugglers present, the youngest was Laci Endresz. His small stature makes Endresz appear even younger than his 12 years. That emphasizes his talent, but hurts in his collaboration with his sister, Kate, three years his elder. She was totally at ease and could have done well as a grown man's assistant. However, Laci's child-like appearance beside Kate's older appearance was a bit bothersome.
Born of two long-time circus families (the Roberts Brothers Circus on the maternal side and Hungarian circus on the father's side), Laci worked in an acrobatic act with his father. The youngster warmed up for the act by juggling tennis balls. While watching him one day, Laci's father realized his son's talent, and Laci therefore began regular juggling training. He worked hard, but never forgot to live. Despite the circus ring and his stardom, he remains a child. He gets pleasure from juggling and the spectators feel it.
Laci Endresz juggles with Kung Fu numchucks, five and seven rings, four and five clubs, three then five balls. He covers the whole ring, plays with the audience, and finishes his act with five flaming torches.
The Bulgarian Anguel Bozilovi juggles balanced on the slack wire. Lying on the wire, he throws spinning plates up onto sticks without difficulty. He presents several classical combinations while balancing on one foot. Juggling with four clubs, he jumps to the ground and salutes the crowd without stopping his juggle. It's a pretty finish that doesn't interrupt the harmony of the difficult exercises.
Fu Xiu Yu, a 24-year-old Chinese acrobat, astounded spectators with her her astonishing equilibrium. Perched on a unicycle, she rides onto a pedestal decorated with dragons by a coming and going lateral motion. Then, pedaling with just one foot, she tossed with her other foot one bowl, then two, three and even four bowls that pile up on her head.
Not content with that prowess, Fu Xiu Yu rode on top of an immense wooden ball weighing 100 kilograms. As unlikely as it may seem, she rides the unicycle on the ball and begins once again to juggle with her iron bowls and a coffee pot. To top everything, she tosses the coffee pot to the top of the bowls on her head with her foot.
This incredible exercise was conceived by Mr. Liu. His pupil practiced four years to get it right. It took two years alone to learn to mount the ball and 1-1/2 to juggle. But this act is unique in China and even, as far as anyone knows, unique in the whole world.
George Sollveno, a Swiss citizen, discovered juggling by going to the circus with his father. He met Jacky Lupescu there and a passion was born. Already 13 years old, the young man began to work alone every day. Six months later, he knew how to juggle three balls. He called Jacky Lupescu, who told him over the phone how to juggle four. That one lesson was enough. Later, he received from his "professor" rings and clubs. From that moment on his life was oriented resolutely around juggling, though he also took the time first to undertake an apprenticeship in business.
In 1975 he debuted with the Circus Nock and last year, at age 32, he participated in the world-famous Circus Knie. Sollveno juggles in the pure tradition of Rastelli. His combinations are varied, his work diverse, highlighted by original inventions such as lighted clubs and five rings bounced on a rubber carpet.
These four jugglers met different fortunes at Monaco. Laci Endresz and George Sollveno left with empty hands, while Anguel Bozilovi receive the Louis Merlin prize in recognition of his long artistic career. Fu Xiu Yu received the City of Monaco Prize and the Monte Carlo Television Prize.
The silver clown went to the Mongolian contortionists Erdene Tuya and Oyuntcheimeg, as well as to Kehaiovi, Bulgarian teeterboard artists. The two gold clowns went to the Chinese hoop jumpers from Shen Yang as well as to the Italian Massimiliano Nones and his marvelous group of tigers.
They came from as far away as the Northwest Territories and from as close as Mallory Square. They came to juggle, jest and mime. They came to show off their skills and pick up some new ones. Two even came to get married. They all came to join in the First Annual Street Performers Festival/Buskerfest in Key West, Fla.
"We got preliminary responses from 55 buskers from seven different countries, but there were even more at the actual event," said Will Soto, festival director and himself a regular street performer in Mallory Square. "There were at least 25 or 30 professional jugglers here. There were people doing big star patterns, people walking ropes in the trees... incredible!"
The Buskerfest, which had been in the works for about six or seven years, was the brainchild of the Cultural Preservation Society (CPS). The CPS was founded for the protection and preservation of street performing as an art form and important cultural profession. The CPS worked hard and long in the preparation of the five-day-long even, which not only made it a huge success, but also gained them partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the State of Florida, the Florida Arts Council, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
"We're celebrating the present, where street theatre is right now, and we're celebrating its past history," said Soto. "All theatre started in the street, and we're bringing focus again to the fact that street performing is a legitimate arm or leg of theatre."
The extravaganza, which ran from Jan. 14-18, opened with a street performer's workshop headed by San Francisco veteran buskers Ray Jason and Dana Smith. Jason gave an overview of the street performing scene in San Francisco as compared to Key West and other well-known "stages" throughout the world.
The group discussed the various problems that street performers face in different locations. Overcrowded areas seemed to be the chief complaint. Bounce the Clown, who performs his vaudeville circus act along with his partner, Mademoiselle Ooo La La in both Key West and Boston, described the Mallory Square area as being "totally overwhelmed with performers."
Jason brought up another subject. "On the sidewalks it becomes the lowest common denominator stuff a lot of the time," he said. "The more subtle things won't work there because the audience is a lot more prone to leave. So it's all chainsaws and torches."
Jason went on to explain that most true buskers pick the lifestyle because they love it, not just to pass the time while waiting to get into so-called "legitimate" theatre. "Between Dana Smith and I, we have about 27 years of street performing experience," he said. "We like to think of ourselves as genuine buskers in that we're in it for the duration."
The overwhelming crowds of performers were in strong evidence on opening night of Buskerfest at Mallory Square. The pier, which Bounce, Soto and other regulars claim does not provide enough room for their acts, hosted visiting acts from London, Connecticut, New York and elsewhere.
"It's a zoo here," a juggler from Canada observed from the sidelines. "I didn't really come here to perform, though. I'd rather just enjoy all the great talent here. It's exciting."
When the sun set over the pier, the excitement carried inside to the Jan McArt Cabaret Theatre, where the Sunset Hall of Fame awards were presented. Performances by Bounce and Ooo La La, Matthew the Manipulator, and Magical Mystical Michael highlighted the program.
On each of the following days of the festival, juggling workshops were held for beginning and advanced juggling. The classes were open to the public and were held at the Mallory Square cistern, a historical spot where the first street performers in Key West practiced and presented their talents before the advent of the Sunset Celebration. The workshops proved to be a great place for the seasoned and novice jugglers to get together and trade secrets and stories. Some of the best juggling of the entire event occurred at these impromptu gatherings.
Karl Saliter and Paul Norton, two buskers from New York and Colorado, respectively, were just a couple of the experienced people present to provide the instruction. Jim Steffins, a part-time juggler and entertainer from Costa Mesa, Calif., said that reading about the Buskerfest in Juggler's World spurred him into taking the long trek across the country to join his peers.
"I have a 'real' job with an insurance company," said Steffins between tumbling clubs. "I'd like to get into this full-time, but I have a problem with shyness in front of crowds. I'm here hoping to pick up some pointers from the pros."
The instructors at the workshops stressed the fact that juggling is the best way to develop one's stage presence, self-confidence, and concentration skills while also improving reflexes, timing and rhythm.
After juggling class, Buskerfest offered a wide variety of other activities. At a beach party the emphasis was more on burning torches than on sunburn, and a Pirate Sail included sea chants and plank walking. For two days the streets in downtown Key West were blocked off to allow buskers to do what they do best, perform in the streets.
During one of the busking free-for-alls, a particularly daring feat was performed. Sandy "Sunshine" Johnson, a professional clown from Maryland, and Paul Belanger (who comes from a family of 13 jugglers) exchanged wedding vows.
"We had a choice between a family-style wedding in a church or Buskerfest," said Sandy. She decided to forgo the white gown and veil in favor of her red clown overalls and size 13 high-tops.
The bride walked down an aisle formed by 14 jugglers passing clubs over her head, while the groom followed on his unicycle carrying a balloon bouquet. Mademoiselle Ooo La La acted as maid of honor and played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on the squeezebox. Onlookers held balloon flowers and threw confetti instead of rice. Ray Jason juggled a sickle, knife and ax as a special tribute. In lieu of wedding presents, the bride and groom did the appropriate thing -- they passed the hat! "I guess you'd call this a two-ring circus!" quipped the bride as Paul whisked her away on his unicycle.
After a full day of activities, the buskers' energy level and endurance was tested by a nightly itinerary of shows and parties. Of particular note was an intimate performance by Avner the Eccentric, who held a leading role in the movie "Jewel of the Nile." In addition there were appearances by sword-swallower Johnny Fox, San Francisco's Butterfly Man, and the wild and wooly World Emergency Circus.
The Key West festival got its name from the old English word "busker," which was the floppy hat worn long ago by vagabonds. They passed their hats in return for tricks they performed, so the term became a natural slang for street performers who get paid in the same way.
On the final day of Buskerfest, a family picnic was held in a park under the trees. Besides the slack rope walkers in the trees and the bowling ball and sabre jugglers, participants included Masiji Terasawa, who is one of the eight remaining people practicing the ancient Japanese art of "amesaiko," or taffy sculpting.
"What a great way to end the festival," commented Ray Jason. "All in all I think it was a fabulous five days. The only changes I'd like to see for next year is to see some of the venues changed. The working conditions on the street were somewhat difficult, particularly for the West Coast performers who are used to a more controlled environment. I myself enjoyed the challenge. But next year I'd like to see some scheduling of performers and perhaps some indoor shows."
The general consensus was that the Buskerfest was a wonderful success and an important step for street performers everywhere. The well-run festival helped to lend credibility to the buskers with local merchants and the community as a whole. There is no doubt that the Second Annual Street Performers Festival will happen, and be even greater. There's even talk of taking it on the road to other other popular street theatre locations. Look for the dates of next year's Buskerfest and make plans to be there. It's one that no performer or fun-lover should miss!
Old friends and new faces created an atmosphere of familiarity and excitement at the 9th Annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival in Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 6-8.
Most of the 100 people present had attended several previous Groundhog Day celebrations. Mike Stillwell of the Jongleur Jugglers was on the Grady High School gymnasium floor working on pirouette kickups. Captain Slow (Louie Zeller) rocked the public show audience by getting himself caught in, and then swallowed up by, his big bag of tricks. Dana Tison was working on seven clubs with increasing success.
But a few new faces shone among the old crowd. Most notable was Jeff Mason, a 21-year-old from Minneapolis on his way to Pittsburgh whose diabolo work astounded even the most veteran Groundhog-goers.
"I like the fact that most people don't use the prop," said Mason, whose smooth, salon-style juggling technique came from studying some of the best -- Scott Burton, Dan Holzman and Peter Davison. Though he's been juggling for six years, Mason has only recently "gone public" with his act in juggling circles. He performed one night at Club Renegade at the San Jose convention, but his Groundhog Day appearances were the only other time most jugglers had seen him. The attention generated by mastery of tricks was slightly embarrassing, Mason said. "It's strange to be an instant celebrity," he admitted.
But Groundhog Day fans had never seen the likes of it. "Most of the unique tricks are hard to describe," Mason said. But one diabolo trick that impressed fans was Mason down on one knee with the string under the knee. The diabolo traveled under his knee and over his back to be caught on the string in front again.
In the spirit of utilizing unusual props, Mason said he would like to add nested cups to his repertoire next. He also does cigar boxes and up to five clubs and seven balls. IJA members may have a chance to see him put it all together this summer, because he plans to perform in the U.S. Nationals.
The Groundhog Day Festival followed its familiar format of Saturday afternoon competitions, Saturday night party and Sunday afternoon public show. Winners of the competition, as selected by three non-juggling judges, were: Barry Abraham of Nashville, Tenn., as Most Important; Benji Hill of Thomasville, N.C., as Most Distinguished; and the team of Manic Expressions from Boone, N.C., as Most Profound.
Another convention highlight was Bill Fry's "Twelve Days of Christmas" act complete with (of course) five gold rings and "a rubber chicken in a pear tree." Yvonne Wetherell of the Jongleur Jugglers did a Dr. Seuss-inspired juggling poem on eggs that ended up in a scrambled mess on the floor. Terrell Hayes of Nashville swung clubs in a frenzied air-band imitation of Mick Jagger, and Prof. Henry Huggler demonstrated devil sticking with his stuffed friend, John Aloisious Camel.
Clutching my $6 meal coupon, I stare bleary-eyed at the long airport cafeteria line. Hawaiian Air -- what a company! Seven hours delay before takeoff and all I get is a $6 meal.
A couple in front of me are grumbling. We exchange complaints and find we have a common mission. I have just met the illustrious Alan Plotkin, the videographer who is filming the Hawaiian Vaudeville Festival. Our future is uncertain. Are we going to be stuck in a condo with 100 jugglers and 300 exhaust-belching chain saws, or are we taking a trip to paradise?
The after-breakfast scramble for new airline reservations is successful. Four hours in the bar before the flight will give me plenty of time for a few health drinks. We're finally flying friendly skies again!
Hawaii at last! We are promptly met in Hilo by the Hawaiian Vaudeville chauffeur and whisked to the Flying Karamazov Brothers' show at the University of Hawaii. The performance was par excellence, but the party afterwards was where the festivities really began.
I find myself in the Puna Kahuna (Seven Seas Circus) house with about 20 other early festival arrivals. A triple-spin height ceiling, music, food and beer make for an instant all-night party. The group is quite diverse: Bohemian street performers, escape artists, magicians, musicians, tap dancers and other great conversationalists.
The last few days with no sleep have taken their toll. A few hours of shut-eye is in order. In what feels like minutes (and is not actually much more), it is morning. A quick stroll to the ocean gives time for my mind to clear. The fact that I am in Hawaii really sinks in. The scenery is spectacular and there is plenty of sun. I can feel my pale winter pallor withering away as a stout tropical tan starts peeking through.
On to the festival site -- Kalani Honua. I deem it fully equipped: hot tub, swimming pool, sauna, massage table. The retreat is on about 20 acres and can easily accommodate all 100 of us. It is located on the Puna Coast about one mile from Black Sands Beach and five miles from the current lava flows.
I am determined to return with at least a peeling burn, so I spend the first afternoon lounging in the sun by the pool. A few fellow jugglers are chatting about the festival agenda over pitchers of beer provided by the Renegades.
We're talking a full schedule: Hawaiian theme competition ($200 first prize) on Tuesday, Club Renegade on Wednesday, public show in Hilo on Thursday and nightly parties with Bosco's one-man band. Daily excursions are also planned to Volcano National Park, queen's bath, the boiling pots, the steam vents, hot cave, green lake and Thurston lava tubes.
Talk turns to the hot lava excursions which leave nightly at 3 a.m. Apparently small groups of people are hiking up to the lava flows to melt their shoes off. Well, that's out of the question! I tell myself I will not risk my neck juggling on hot lava.
The Hawaiian theme competitions are very entertaining, though conservatively judged. Most of the acts are new pieces with lots of improvisation. Susan Boyce and Brian Jones's tap dance a cappella number, which takes first prize, is a clean professional performance. I prefer the wild comedy stuff, like The Bohemians' two-part act, "Half-Monkey, Half-Spider, Half-Man" and "Aloha Full Moon."
The Renegades (last year's winners) perform a slap-stick surfing act where they attempt juggling in a heavy swell. The entire event is on film and video copies can be purchased from the Hawaiian Vaudeville Company, Box 283, Honokaa, HI 96727.
It is 3 a.m. Why am I up? Most of all, why am I in this van on my way to juggle on hot lava? My cries for mercy are met with tired satanic laughter.
After a long and bumpy drive, the vans come to a stop and all 20 suicidal jugglers pile out. We are given a quick lecture, possibly our last, about the perilous journey ahead. We must walk several miles along a dirt road, cross the half-mile "a'a" flow and then walk up the mountain over a pahoehoe flow.
Walking on "a'a" turns out to be like walking on mounds of broken glass or strolling through a razor blade recycling center. One slip and you're finished! The next catch is that when you walk on the pahoehoe flow you must tap your walking stick in front of you to detect thin spots where you could fall through into the white hot lava below.
The first part of the journey up the road is a piece of cake. The "a'a" is scary but passable. The walk up the pahoehoe is risky, but fun. New flows in the distance glow like city lights. When we reach the live flows there is an eerie peacefulness. The flow moves in a slow but decisive way.
In next to no time we bring out the white gas and juggling torches. All fear is set aside as a hot lava juggling frenzy ensues. Peoples' shoes smoke as they juggle on the hot flow. Jugglers run toward the flow with sticks, jabbing, poking and joking.