The Cases of Elegance in Juggling

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

In this post, i'd like to show you some of the jugglers i've seen recently who showed some elegance and style, who's performances contribute to bringing juggling into a respectable performance art.

Erin Stephens juggling. The “The Makeup Show” but without the prologue.

Here we can see that the artist has taken juggling not as a matter of dexterity-demonstration mixed with insensibilities, but a matter of grace, where every of her bodily movements are a expression of artistry. Here, her particular style and creativity is shown as a samba-dance, thoroughly integrated with the music and juggling moves.

2005 Juggling Convention.

This is a informal video recording of the 2005 Juggling Convention. There are several jugglers who showed a sensibility of performance art.

Foremost is the contact juggler. (name unknown to me) Asides from his supreme mastery of contact juggling, he showed it in a very elegant fluid style, as a mystic magician conjuring magic.

Contact Juggling, by its very nature, tends to have more inherent elegance than object-throwing juggling. Although, a sad fact is that contact juggling often became cheap tricks of illusion that has no depth and requires little skill, verging on as if selling snake oil. The above juggler however, is a extreme exception.

In thes same video, we see a 3-balls juggler (Minh-Tam Kaplan) who masked his mastery of blind-juggling in a nonchalant way. Instead of putting on a blind-fold and bluntly demonstrate, he gave us a subtle performance of this mastery.

Also in the same video, we see a guy bouncing 4 balls. (by Manu, aka C2Laballe of Paris). In this informal video shooting practice sessions, we see Manu skillfully showed us the fun and the mathematical variations of bouncing 4 balls. Something that is unhurried and beautiful to watch. One can seldom see such focus on the mathematical beauty of juggling in juggling shows.

It should be noted, that the beauty and elegances we see in these performances do not necessarily equate technical excellence, however, nor should we appreciate juggling acts that is mostly graceful movements with little technical substance. In other performance arts, such as gymnastics, figure skating, dancing, the judgment of their quality are based on two aspects: Technicality and Artistry. Not one without the other. The difference between gymnastics we see in Olympics and acrobats we see in most circuses, is that gymnastics pay attention to artistry and grace, while acrobats is pure stunt.

In the juggling world, grace is almost never seen. On occasion, we will see a juggler with mastery of clowning. Clowning in itself is a dedicated art in the same class as comedians. It takes some innate ability to touch people's humor nerve and control the crowd. A good clown as a profession takes years to master. (There are clowning or comedian schools) Another thing we may see in jugglers sometimes, is blunt perfection of technicality. (such as Jason Garfield or Thomas Dietz)

Take Jason Garfield for example, who has made controversies in his big talks disparaging the moronicity of jugglers being cheap slapstickers. Although his remarks are on the spot, but himself demonstrated no artistry whatsoever. What he has demonstrated in his performances, is primarily a pure mastery of the juggling technicalities. For example, in one of his video harangue, he showed us back-cross of 5 clubs and other moves that not many jugglers can do. But if we look at him thru the artistic eye, he looked like a stick that is the most boring to watch. Why do these world-class jugglers, when doing their juggling, cock their heads and shift their feet? How beautiful would it be, if jugglers don't cock their heads upwards like a turkey, or shift their feet like a penguin, just so they can astonish us with brute physical feats?

One particular point about Jason that illustrate the difference of juggling as a pure circus feat versus being a respected performance art, is Jason's trademark the Ass Catch. This is the trick where the juggler throws the balls in the air, and quickly bend down, extending a hand between his legs towards his back to catch one falling ball then resume juggling. Jason does this with 5 balls. The act's extreme technical demand and extreme ugliness, goes without saying.

There are a infinite number of elegant and beautiful moves even with just 3 or 4 balls, whose technical difficulties are beyond the Ass Catch or 7 balls juggling. Their existence can come about only when jugglers realize the fact.

If juggling is to become a performance art to be performed in theaters and respected in society (such as ballet), or be accepted as a respected competitive sport (as figure skating in Olympics), jugglers need to view their craft as a performance art, and need to study theater art and body movements. Most importantly, they need to kick the mentality of “looook! i can do this!”.

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