The 13th European Juggling Festival brought together more than 2,000 jugglers for a gathering that was light on organization and structure, but heavy on fun and entertainment. Complementing the new spirit sweeping Europe, the emphasis was on freedom, allowing jugglers to shape the festival as they saw fit. Workshops, performances and a business meeting were all informal and flexible.
The highlight of the Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 1990, gathering in Oldenburg, Germany, was its special guests. There were two Soviet acts - Sergei Ignatov and the team of Victor Koscmann and Pavel Koscel, as well as the American trio Airjazz (Peter Davison, Jon Held, Kezia Tenenbaum).
Ignatov's daily practice sessions drew hundreds of awestruck spectators, Koscel and Koscmann were amazing club passers, and Airjazz again confirmed their international reputation for inventive movement routines.
The day-by-day activities centered around workshops. They covered the topics familiar at American festivals, such as balls, diabolo, devil stick, cigar boxes and club swinging. But certain subjects also carried a special European flair, such as clownerie, circus skills, acrobatics and balance. Among the non-prop-oriented workshops offered was one on comedy writing, taught by Todd Strong. A routining workshop taught by Airjazz drew hundreds of spectators.
Many workshops were divided into different sessions to accommodate participants' varying skill levels. There were "learner" workshops for beginners, "advanced" sessions for the experienced and a unique opportunity for the exchange of ideas called "off limits." The off limits workshops were for highly advanced jugglers to exchange ideas, swap tricks or demonstrate routines in a completely unstructured setting. There was also time scheduled for spontaneous workshops. Ignoring the obvious irony of scheduling a spontaneous workshop, the concept was a good one aimed at letting the jugglers take the festival in diverse directions.
The favorite prop had to be the diabolo. Diabolos of every size and color were flying everywhere. Two Parisians, Jean-Manuel Thomas and Thierry Nadalini, drew rave reviews from diabolo aficionados. It is also interesting to note that very few people in Oldenburg did serious numbers... not because they couldn't, I suspect, but because they chose not to. The emphasis seemed to be on the art, and on performance for its own sake, rather than on numbers and performing to win.
Outside of workshops, the bulk of the time spent at the festival involved what we all presumably went for, open juggling. More than 1,800 people registered at a cost of $20 for the four days. Organizers estimated, though, that closer to 2,500 people actually attended. Juggling space was quite readily available for even these large numbers. There were two large sheltered areas, one inside and the other outdoors, where everyone had a chance to pass clubs, play unicycle hockey, steal tricks or do whatever.
Many passed the time just watching other jugglers. Waldo and Michiel Hesseling passing six, seven, and eight clubs garnered a lot of attention, as did Marcus Markoni passing with an array of women jugglers.
But the legendary 41-year-old Ignatov was certainly the most-watched convention participant. The crowd gathered daily as he began his practice on the gym floor. His deliberate warm-ups began with stretching while seated, and then he worked from one ball or one club up to the numbers.
On the first day of the convention he flashed 11 rings, which was particularly impressive since he had just started back juggling after a two-month vacation. He also managed long runs with nine rings, a pirouette with seven, and pancake throws with five. With balls, he worked up to seven, using bright orange balls larger than softballs. The highlight of his club work was the way he could play while working with five, running back and forth with the pattern to entertain spectators.
Despite his skill and position of respect in the minds of jugglers, Ignatov is uncomfortable talking about himself in terms of "greatness." He knows he is very good, but he prefers to talk about the people he most admires, like Francis Brunn, Kris Kremo, Bob Bramson, and Michael Moschen. He said, "Michael Moschen is my friend. I met him when I was in the United States. I think he is wonderful."
He also admires Anthony Gatto, whom he met several years ago in Monte Carlo, and jokes about the difference in their ages, saying, "He is something like a son for me."
Ignatov said the focus of his juggling for the next year will be his trip to the IJA festival in St. Louis July 16-21. He is designing a new routine, with new costumes and music, specifically for the event.
And, if past experiences hold true, he should be at the top of his form. He said he usually is at his best in June and July, after which he takes a one- or two-month vacation. He then spends September to May building back up to form.
But he said his absolute best form was 11 years ago. In Oldenburg he showed videotapes of himself from that period, using slow motion to point out his perfect form. His pride and self-confidence showed on those occasions without a hint of arrogance. He admits he is past his prime, but it does not seem to bother him. He is more concerned with the art and the performance than with juggling the most objects. He said he is not concerned with world records, but only with how his personality emerges in performance.
Age makes it harder and harder for Ignatov to stay in shape and keep his juggling form. But he said he has gotten better at knowing how to do it. He jogs and works out with weights regularly, and forces himself to take a vacation every year. Outside of juggling, he and his wife, Marianna, who assists him in his act, visit museums and enjoy fine arts.
He has no intention of giving up juggling in the foreseeable future. He said, "I plan on being in good form 10 years from now, and beyond that I will wait and see."
Ignatov's practice sessions built excitement for the Oldenburg public show. The "Jugglers' Gala" was held in Oldenburg's Weser-Ems Hall, a 5,000 seat arena that was filled for the occasion.
The Flying Dutchmen, Michiel Hesseling and Jean-Michel Pare, entertained the packed house with torch passing, Hesseling's skill with five balls, and Pare's unicycling virtuosity. Airjazz performed two routines in the show, their "Take Off" with suitcases, and another routine manipulating various objects, including long metal poles. Peter Davison also performed solo with three and five balls.
The long show (three hours) built up to climax performances of the Soviets. Koscel and Koscmann did some wonderful passing and comedy, including eight clubs on unsupported ladders, complete with pratfalls. But they suffered quite a few drops, as did the show's star and finale, Sergei Ignatov.
The focus of the final day's business meeting was choosing a site for the 14th European festival. Verona, Italy, emerged as the choice. Though no date has been picked, it will certainly follow the European tradition of late August/early September. So make your plans. The Europeans definitely know how to throw a festival, and your time and money will be well spent.