Kareem Abdul Jabbar made points in UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, but he never handled a basketball like Bob Nickerson. That's Nickerson - "with the knickers on!"
Nickerson, a punny jocular juggler, dribbles four basketballs simultaneously, and can dribble five small balls with a taps through his legs! Not many of coach John Wooden Bruin basketball heroes could ever learn to do that!
Entering the IJA championships for the 10th consecutive year, Nickerson's delightfully eccentric skill was an appropriate part of an event that covered juggling from water glasses to sombreros...
... Two days later and the inside of my head still feels like moss. The blur of the past juggling week a coast away can't be neatly sorted into sentences and stories. So we begin with Bob Nickerson.
He looms above many other festival experiences that cross my memory like a confused, over-ripe five club cascade.
Festival-lag. The week is a whirlwind of images, many set in the Pauley Pavilion dome with its constant day/night artificial light. Lousy lights for photography, but good enough to see jugglers gathered there to make the UCLA hardwood their own hallowed ground.
And after mixing and mingling in the precious, emotional joy of common cause and kindred soul, most were exhausted.
Tired because you add to the slope of The Hill a 12 hour day on your feet juggling and fellowshipping. One of the many mathematicians present figured that his eight hours of club passing daily added up to 16 tons of lifting!
Juggling festivals are not like normal vacations. But there was no question among jugglers that the 43rd IJA festival was the right place to be. You could tell it the minute you descended The Ten Thousand Steps onto the Pauley floor. The sight of clubs flying everywhere and banners of affiliates and prop makers built the excitement.
One old-timer found it overwhelming. John Boettcher was at the first IJA festival in 1948 as an 18-year-old, and hadn't been back since. "I can't conceive of anything like this," he said. "Eddy Tierney did five clubs at that first gathering and no one could believe it."
Five clubs at UCLA hardly raised an eyebrow... unless they were in the hands of young Jason Garfield, who whipped them into solid back crosses with astounding precision.
But Boettcher and other present veterans like Art Jennings, Eddie Johnson, George and Bill Barvin, Nick Gatto, and Phineas Indritz had their own tricks to trade. Boettcher told about his old tramp act twist on tossing a ball into the top of a top hat. He said, "I let the ball come out the trap door a couple of times, then locked the trap door for the next throw and took a foam ball out of my mouth instead."
A place like that where ideas are thick as stars abruptly jump-starts your creativity. Besides 30-plus workshops on manipulative skills and performance, each stroll around the pavilion floor revealed "neat things." In one corner is Francois Chotard, spinning a Guinness record nine balls on Freddie Krueger-like finger extensions. Over there Chadd Lowe claims he can spin anything on his finger, and proceeds to padiddle a suitcase, then a machete, than a wheelbarrow!
Not only new things to watch, but new things to try. This inaugural year of The IJA Games proved to be a big hit. Different activities on four separate areas of the pavilion floor involved just about everyone in something.
They could try the obstacle course, hustling three balls through a pylon chicane, along a balance beam and around other proscribed markers. About 50 people cranked up their five ball cascades simultaneously for an endurance contest that looked for all the world like a multi-faucet fountain. And as 49 men fell by the wayside, the only female entrant - Cindy Marvell - kept hers aloft to win the event.
The speed club passing contest provided a blurred picture of clubs in rapid motion, while a long-distance passing contest saw contestants wheeling wildly over the terrain like fielders chasing fly balls. Diabolists tested the limits of Pauley's heights with a high-toss challenge, but were handicapped with a model sufficiently heavy to keep them from busting out lights.
Down at the other end of the floor, serious practitioners dueled in the formal numbers challenge to test the ultimate limits of their ability. Allen Knutson and Dave Morton passing 12 balls and Owen Morse and Jon Wee with 10 clubs set IJA team records in the process.
Two IJA and Guinness records were set in joggling. Team Exerball (Albert Lucas, Owen Morse, Tuey Wilson and Jon Wee) found the third time a charm in breaking the four minute mile relay. Despite a drop in the third leg, they flashed to a 3:57.38 in front of a large gallery of peers and reporters. Morse later set a new solo mark for the 400-meter run with a time of 57:32.
The addition of a private qualifying session for junior championships competitors steered the not-ready-for-prime-time entrants to a more appropriate venue for their work - the new Showcase of Young Talent. Joined on the big student union stage by some experienced talent, they entertained several hundred local children bussed in from programs around the city. The event was later commended by the city council.
The eight competitors who did qualify for the evening juniors competition all presented impressively polished acts, further heating the debate between proponents for competitions and those for a juried showcase presentation of the art. Scores of people responded to a questionnaire on the subject circulated by championships director Laura Green.
The U.S. Nationals championships built on the juniors as an impressive showcase of well-constructed acts. Mark Nizer, who moved to LA just a few weeks earlier, made a splash in his new town by winning the event with some skillful ball spinning, an artistic three ball routine, head rolls and club juggling. He was rewarded with the IJA's Lucas Cup and the $1,000 first prize.
A Mexican circus juggler, Carlos Rodriguez, was happy to go home with second after a skillful routine with five volleyballs, sombrero hat tossing and top hat manipulation. Perennial competitor Dan Holzman finished third with a gentleman juggling routine that featured hat, ball and cane manipulations, five balls and five disks.
Presentation of IJA awards to volunteers and staff was interspersed between U.S. Nationals acts. People recognized by emcee Dave Finnigan came forward to pick from a dozen different styles of masks. At the end of the event, the masked band of jugglers mounted the stage for a most unusual and colorful group picture!
The top award of the night enshrined Mary Wilkins of Chino, Calif., as an Honorary Life Member for her service. She proved her dedication again during festival by setting up a display of historical material in the pavilion and by organizing a benefit show for deaf children in the LA school system.
Speaking of benefits, the benefit auction earned another record amount for the IJA treasury - $3,639. Chairman of the Board Rich Chamberlin served as auctioneer, and with help from an able cast disposed of more than 100 items. Propmakers contributed new props and American Airlines provided two round-trip air tickets. Some unique items purchased included a signed Karamazov Brothers sufi sword used in their "Jewel of the Nile" movie, a set of unfinished Harry Lind clubs, a set of three Howard Nichols bicycle hoops, three autographed Kris Kremo cigar boxes, a photo of Lotte Brunn with the Three Stooges, and an early Ignatov circus posters.
Two Ply Press, the monthly juggling newsletter headquartered nearby, sponsored one of the week's more creative contests - a sand surfing challenge held at intermission of the Starlight Dance. Who could best interpret Dirk Spiv, the comic juggling hero? Rebel Bailey juggled a trout, a mussel and a fresh lemon on the wavering board, then thrilled the crowd by biting the head off his fish for a finale. But Jimmy Schafer of Berkeley won by doing seven balls on the board and asking for more waves.
Exposure to allied arts was exciting to many people, as a large contingent of experts in other fields attended. Yo-yoists worked out with dedication, witnessed in their taped fingers and string patterns of Gordian knot complexity. More than 30 of them, including Bob Rule, a.k.a. "Mr. Yo-Yo," held a mini-festival of their own as part of the IJA gathering.
The Sand Diego Sand Skippers showed that their art goes several levels beyond the childhood chant of "Cinderella dressed in yellow came downstairs and kissed her fellow." Someone else was flipping cards 50 or so yards into the lower decks of Pauley's seats. Another man sat on the floor weaving a bawdy tale with all 52 cards of a deck he seemed to know by heart, even though he made his audience frequently cut it for him.
People batted Volleybirds around the gym from hand to hand, while whistling balloons slowly labored through the air toward the rafters. Bullwhips were cracking and lariats twirling. Whimsically twisted balloons became decorative headgear, and unicyclists weaved around the floor. A Japanese visitor showed the delicately complex art of "kendama" with a cupped stick and a ball attached to it by a string.
There was even a new twist on an old prop - the juggling club. Ron Wirgart of Reflection Company in Virginia brought along 250 of his new "Soft Clubs" - models fashioned by injecting polyurethane foam in a mold around a wooden dowel. His stock went quickly to curious patrons, and to people looking for relief for sore hands. There was speculation that the new prop might be just the ticket to bring combat juggling back into the IJA arena.
The after-hours action was equally novel. The three stands of Club Renegade, the midnight cabaret, gave folks a chance to try out material in front of an unpredictable crowd. More than one found their routine shattered by the rhythmic clapping that signaled disapproval, but for others it was just the right forum.
Where else could last year's graceful champion, Cindy Marvell, eat an egg in public? In a more practiced appearance, Marvell and collaborators presented a dance juggling piece they played in a New York theatre. Another stand-out act Dale Myrberg's "world's hardest yo-yo trick" - knocking a quarter off a volunteer's ear with a yo-yo. Emcees Ngaio Bealum, Scott Meltzer, Bob Mendelsohn and Miz Tilly engaged the crowd with witty humor and fashion statements between acts.
Hosts Sandy Brown and Ginny Rose made sure that festival souvenirs conveyed the flavor of the region. California cool was reflected in the neon-colored hats, buttons and "Juggler"-imprinted sunglasses. Brightly colored rings of the festival logo emblazoned an official T-shirt that most agreed was the finest ever issued at an IJA event.
Jugglers were warmly welcomed in that place. Mayor Tom Bradley and his city council declared a "Things Are Looking Up Juggler's Week," thanks to good promotion from Linkin Communications. Jerry Linkin also arranged for Kentucky Fried Chicken's sponsorship of the Young Talent Showcase, and further festival sponsorship from Budget Rent a Car, Volleybird, and L&R Distributing Company, maker of the Rugbee.
The thrills climaxed in Saturday night's "Cascade of Stars" public show. Producer Dan Holzman presented a well-balanced mix of jugglers and variety artists in a high-quality production. LA's favorite weather personality and standup comic, Fritz Coleman, was emcee. From the opening curtain when Michel Lauziere crawled inside a giant balloon until the final curtain that crowned Kris Kremo's double pirouette behind three cigar boxes, the entertainment was superb.
It was a looser audience and livelier show than most known in the beautiful, staid confines of Royce Hall, but the magnificent 1,800 seat structure seemed to enjoy the evening's laughter.
Lauziere's balloon got things off to a bang. Chuck Gunter then repeated his winning juniors championship routine, and was followed by the Passing Zone (Owen Morse and Jon Wee), whose highlight was two-high juggling machetes on a rola-bola. The Sand Skippers showed some fancy rope skipping, Dennis McBride did two-handed yo-yoing, and Scotty and Joan Houghton presented delightful comedy unicycling.
In his stark style, Michael Menes presented club swinging perfectly choreographed to music. Next it was Rob Salafia, hooded and draped in black, speaking and tap dancing for his life-size puppet, Dr. Bosco. Holzman appeared on stage with his Raspyni Brothers partner, Barry Friedman, for some precision club passing, and the first act closed with Mark Nizer doing ping pong balls and his trademark bowling ball, machete and butane torch.
Dan Menendez opened the second act with the routine that earned him exposure on the Tonight Show - juggling up to five balls off a floor piano. The audience responded most warmly to his rendition of the early bars of "Stairway to Heaven." Fred Garbo, the man with inflatable toys, tossed three large airy cubes around the stage, then donned his Fred Zeppelin suit for an outrageous inflated fat man dance. Teresa and Sem Abrahams showed gymnastic artistry on unicycles, finishing with her standing high atop his shoulders.
Teams champions, Darn Good & Funny, reprised their winning act of two nights before, demonstrating the never-before-seen simplicity of partners juggling two balls and each end of a pole. The guest of honor, Kris Kremo, gave a finale presentation of balls, hats and cigar boxes with style and no drops, demonstrating why he can write his own ticket at clubs and circuses around the world. At the end of the show Coleman presented Kremo with the IJA's Award of Excellence.
There was the feeling that the show made a public statement about the IJA - there in the heart of the entertainment world. Our show and our performers were as good as any!
The public looked in on it all mostly through the eyes of the media. Winners and no-names alike entertained many queries from reporters during the week. And as every juggler knows, almost every reporter will ask, "Why do you do this?"
Wasn't it obvious? Wasn't it clear that the patterns in our hands were things of beauty to control? And that some special people in that place were pure geniuses at it? Jugglers call that a good time!