Well, well, well, what a super BJC! We blow a big raspberry to all those who didn’t come because they were afraid of the wild weather of the North. The entire week was virtually rain free, sun-filled and beautiful (alright, maybe it was pretty cold at night and some tents were blown away in the high winds).
The BJC 2014 was held in Darton College, near Barnsley. The site was awesome; pretty compact so no long treks from your tent to the rest of the convention. It was also nicely self-contained with a bar, café, food stalls and the traders all in or around the hub of the event, the Atrium. (For a tour of the venue watch this video.)
The Atrium, as well as housing workshop areas, a study room and loads of loos, also had a theatre for Renegades and a stage for larger shows like the cabaret and open stage. The central space in front of the stage also hosted the youth circus show, fight night and was a general juggling space at other times. The Atrium, along with the courtyard outside was a fantastic hub for the convention.
The only downside of this “all-in-one” space, in my opinion, was that it wasn’t the best show venue. The space and stage were great but because it was also a social area it felt like the shows didn’t have attention they deserved with the general chatter coming from those playing games, drinking at the bar or otherwise not in the area to see the show.
For the Fight Night, however, it was ideal. I was aware of Fight Nights and knew that Luke Burrage (who provided all the photos in this article) was collating points from various events into a world ranking, but I hadn’t seen one in the flesh before. It was bloomin’ brilliant! For our commentary on the tournament have a look over here.
The Atrium wasn’t the only indoor juggling space. There was a reasonable sized hall that was open 24 hours and next to this was a smaller gym that was home to the Torwood Wheelers, who ran Cyr and German wheel workshops all week and who are becoming a regular feature of BJCs, which could be used for juggling when the Wheelers were finished. There was also a dance studio that was open for juggling when not occupied with workshops. We also had some pretty good weather (have I mentioned this already?) and there was loads of outdoor juggling space that included a unicycle area.
Of course, the workshop timetable was as packed as ever with classes in every prop and for every level. Due to other commitments I didn’t participate in any but the word on the street was they were all awesome!
The show schedule was incredible with something happening every night. Unlike some other years, the Gala Show was towards the beginning of the convention but we’ll leave that for last…
After settling in on the Friday, Saturday was the first full convention day. At 6pm the Five Ring Circus, which comprises of young performers form the North East, presented their La Bonche Show. We’ve seen these young performers at Durham convention and Play before and we’re extremely impressed with the maturity of their show and standard of skills displayed. The whole show was expertly compered by a very confident young lady and acrobalance, aerial, unicycling and acrobatics was on display from the rest of the cast.
Later in the evening was the fire show, put on by Flambé and featuring the Dangerettes and Ms Merlin. The show started with fire drums being beaten. This was a great idea and raised the excitement of the crowd but the timing of the drumming could have been better, hampered, I expect, by the acoustics of the amphitheatre the show was held in. The show contained a great variety of props, including fire swords, levi stick, some well-timed and visually effective partner poi, hoops and mini-hoops from Ms Merlin, body burning, a three-person double staff act and a five-person snake poi act. The fire torch passing was greeted with the heckle, “no pressure”, but this didn’t deter the jugglers who impressed the BJC crowd. The show also featured the fire fans routine we saw at Play 2013 and features more tech than your average fans act! My favourite act was Simon Ratzker’s double fire whip routine. Two blazing fire whips is always a spectacle but Simon has the skills to make it spectacular. Towards the end of this act the whips became tangled. Even when they refused to separate, Simon was not deterred and used the fused pair of whips as a fire skipping rope. The finale of the fire show was a pyrotechnic extravaganza, epic enough in scale to impress even the most sceptical of jugglers.
The Old Skool Juggler panel show was also held on Saturday night with four faces who have been on the scene for a while. Unfortunately, due to the weather earlier in the day delaying the fire show these two events clashed so I missed most of the Old Skool show, though I did catch an amusing anecdote about unicycle ice hockey from Russell Wells.
Sunday was a short workshop day as the juggling games were held in the afternoon before we bussed into Sheffield to prepare for the Gala show (see below).
Monday evening saw the cream of Britain’s young juggling talent compete for the accolade of British Young Juggler of the Year. This year’s winner, voted for by the audience, was Arthur Hyam with his diabolo routine. Arthur was also given a silver award by the judges. A bronze award was also given to Cal Courtney. As always with BYJOTY it’s great to see that juggling and circus is still thriving among young people.
Next on the bill was the open stage. Highlights of this show included Ed Cliffe who manipulated an acrylic ball on two and three cigar boxes. Ed’s routine was innovative and he created a huge number of interesting and difficult paths for the ball to follow along the boxes' edges. Other tricks included balances and finger spins. A superb technical act that deserved the standing ovation it received. Luke Burrage, who also hosted the show, opened the second half with a tight, professional ring routine that made great use of the two-colour, reversible rings and finished with juggling seven. Jon Peat, the 2006 BYJOTY winner presented a fast-paced, technical three-ball juggling routine. Headlining the open stage was Iver Tronstad. His street-style act was super good and started with ball juggling, taking the numbers to five. He then traded his balls for clubs, juggling five, six and seven and included a club balance on his peaked cap.
The cabaret on the final night saw many of the attendees bust out their super hero costumes which featured an impressive modelling balloon Iron Man suit. Sat around tables and with a waiter bar service we felt very posh as the acts took to the stage. Luke Burrage (him again!) opened proceedings with some songs including a touching and funny song about his twin brother. Dave Stone followed, dressed in a leotard and tutu, with his hilarious parody of circus school acts. Harry and Paddy totally smashed their awesome hat battle act we first saw at Bath UpChuck this year. Tom Derrick finished the show with a singing in the rain, umbrella manipulation act which was flawlessly performed with expert timing. The proceedings were hosted by Chaz Brockbank and Rosie Kelly. These two worked very well together and were very entertaining. If anyone is looking for show comperes you could do a lot worse than booking these two!
On to the big one, the Gala show – Flashpoint. Hosted by Peter “More Danger” Gamble and his trusty sidekick Russell Wells, they entertained us between acts, mostly by subjecting Russell to dangerous stunts as he held spaghetti or stood against a target while Peter cracked whips or threw knives at him.
The nasty people at UK customs meant that three of the acts scheduled to perform weren’t allowed into the country. The quick and sterling work of Natalie Randall and Anna Bod meant that replacement performers were found. These performers were of such a high calibre that had you not been aware of the original line up, you’d never have suspected it had lost three acts.
Voodoo Unicycles kicked us off with a high-octane demonstration of extreme unicycling that included stunts on to and off of boxes and a high jump competition. The three members of the show’s squad are all champions in the sport having gained titles in trials, street and flatland unicycling.
Next up was Katherin Pancakes who proved she was Pancake by name and pancake by nature as her ring juggling act was full of pancake throws. She juggled three and four rings and finished the act by juggling five rings all with pancake throws.
Gustaf Rosell had the room laughing and amazed by his ball juggling and clothing manipulation act. Tangled in his vest in various ways, somehow Gustaf produced some complex juggling patterns and when he moved on to seven balls his trousers dropped with impeccable timing. He finished the routine with a well-executed side flip.
The curly-haired Bekka Rose followed Gustaf. Dressed in white and using white clubs, Bekka’s act was beautiful and featured tight club isolations, smooth back-crosses, four club juggling and five club multiplexes. My only criticism of this act is that it wasn’t long enough!
Markus Furtner astounded us (once again) with the control he exerts over a devilstick or two. You could tell he loved being on stage by the massive smile on his face and it was great to see him being himself instead of the Mexican act he had last time I saw him perform. Ripping him shirt off as a Metallica track started was the icing on the cake.
The next act is definitely in my top two of the Gala show acts. Mathias Ramfelt, sat on a chair, bounced four and five balls between and under his legs. Then he dropped. The music stopped and Mathias produced a saw. He then proceeded to saw one of the chair’s legs off before sitting back down and continuing to bounce. Another drop and another leg came off. Balancing awkwardly on the chair he then bounced six and seven balls before a further drop. Guess what? Yep, the chair went down to one leg. After an amusing attempt to get seated again he managed to bounce once more, albeit briefly, before some more sawing and a sturdy kick removed the last leg. Essentially sat on the floor Mathais managed to flash seven and then 8 bounce balls before standing up to juggle five and seven balls. He finished the act with a five-up 360. The chair from this act was signed by the whole cast and auctioned off later in the convention to raise funds for the BJC.
Flambé Circus Theatre closed the first half with a glow show written especially for the BJC. It featured poi, double staffs, fans and super bright pixel poi emblazoned with the BJC logo before a pyro finish.
James Miller started the second act with a Chinese pole routine. James did the entire act in a blindfold and featured some impressive drops, including a face-first one, and a blind jump to knee hock. The skills on show were impressive but I would have loved to have seen some even more crazy stuff without the blindfold, perhaps towards the beginning or at the end of the routine.
Bristol-based, Loz Because, presented her swing influenced hula-hoop act next. (You can see the whole act here.) In typical Loz style the routine was full of interesting and difficult hoop tricks built on a dance foundation, all accompanied with wonderfully entertaining facial expressions and a good dose of comedy. Loz used one and two hoops before moving on to four before splitting them. I kind of wish the four-split was the finale trick but, as seems compulsory for hula hoop acts, the last trick was to hoop with loads and loads of hoops. Visually impressive but a bit clichéd.
The penultimate act was the MHD Crew, all the way from Taiwan. Consisting of two guys and a girl, who led the trio for the first part of their show, MHD busted out high-energy diabolo with classic South-East-Asian presentation throughout. Tricks included high throws, including throws launched from the audience, genocides, vertax passing, synchronous two-diabolo, two and three glow diabolos. The big tricks (if those weren’t big enough for you) near the end of the routine included long-string vertax passing with string wrapped around the girl in the middle and passing six diabolos between two of the performers. MHD were the other act in my top two of the show.
Record breaking, Emil Dahl, was the show’s headliner. Emil’s modern style of juggling featured club patterns and manipulation involving his feet, elbows, knees, head and chest. Emil threw down six-club multiplexes and juggled five clubs with the sixth balanced on his head. Emil finished with seven clubs. This was definitely a juggler’s act; no costume to speak of and jam packed with technical tricks that muggles might not understand.
This year’s BJC was a roaring success – the venue was excellent, the shows were fantastic and, apart from some runaway tents, everyone seemed to have a great time.
As is becoming more common, the future of the BJC is, unfortunately, in question with the option of skipping a year being mooted. There is no organising team for 2015 yet, though Jane Randall may take a lead role if we return to Darton College again. If you are interested in learning how to run a BJC then offers of help for next year are very welcome. You can find more information about the business side of things by keeping your eyes on the Facebook page and reading the minutes from this year’s business meeting.
It just remains for us to thank all the BJC organisers, volunteers, workshop leaders and performers at this year's BJC for making it such a special event.
We'd also like to thank Luke Burrage, not only for the multiple roles he played during the event but for letting us use his fantastic photos. He is a man of many talents. You can see more of his pictures and read his blog here.