European Juggling Convention 2013 - Review

The European Juggling Convention 2013The European Juggling Convention 2013 (EJC) was held in Toulouse, France. It was one of the best EJCs in recent years with great weather, an abundance of shows, workshops, live bands and DJs.

After a long drive overnight through France we arrived on site mid-morning on the first day. Despite the heat the registration desk was well manned and pretty efficient which always bodes well for well-organised convention. A shady camping spot was hard to find, even at that early stage of the convention and we had to settle for a spot in the blazing sunshine.

With the workshop timetable not kicking off until the second day we spent the Saturday exploring the site in a mildly sleep deprived state and bumping into friends and familiar faces from the UK, European and worldwide spinning and juggling communities.

The site was relatively compact, at least compared to the Munich EJC. There was one stretch or “desert” you had to cross to get between two main areas of the venue that did it’s best to cook you alive between the oases of shade but other than that the site was easy and quick to navigate.

Slacklining at EJC 2013. Copyright: Dawn JamesBig tops littered the venue each one playing host to different shows in the evenings. We were treated to three 24 hour juggling halls, a slackline area, a family village area with aerial rigs, a concrete unicycle space that doubled as the fire spinning area at night and the Galactic Playground. No, that wasn’t our tired brains taking us off into fantasy land; the Galactic Playground was an area of the site dedicated to spinners with a good mix of sunny spots and essential shade given the soaring temperatures and intense sunshine. A little sound system kept the poi and staff spinners, hula hoopers, meteor-ists and other manipulators bopping through the day. It also contained several workshop areas and was surrounded by food vendors and, more importantly, a couple of bars.

Workshops

Hula hoop workshop at EJC 2013. Copyright: Dawn JamesThe second day of the convention saw the workshops get into full swing. Of course, there were workshops in every circus discipline but as a spinner myself, as opposed to a juggler, I had most contact with the workshops held in the Galactic Playground. Hula hoopers (and there were more than I had seen at previous EJCs) were treated to at least three of the top hoopers in the world. Emma “Kenna Hoops” Kerr, Gail O’Brien and Brecken Rivara all taught several workshops over the convention. With these talented ladies touring the world and commanding a fair price for their workshops outside of the EJC it was a real boon for the hoopers to have access to all three in one place for no more the EJC ticket price.

Poi was also well represented with many internationally respected poi spinners teaching. These included Keith Marshall (Scotland), Noel Yee (USA), Teddy Petrosky (USA) and Giovanni Nulleamai (Italy) to name but a few.

Staff spinners were similarly spoiled with many top names in attendance and teaching workshops. Aileen Lawlor (USA) taught a contact staff and dance workshop as well as a ground work workshop, there were at least two beginner’s contact staff workshops and I ran a couple of more advanced contact staff workshops.

Contact staff workshop at EJC 2013. Copyright: Dawn JamesThere was also more acrostaff at this year’s EJC than I have ever seen before. The No Sweat crew were there in force, there were Monkey Style kung fu staff spinners and Alain Fernandez, than man who inspired No Sweat to a great extent. Alain ran the only acrostaff workshop of the week and, oh boy, was it good. The only downside to that workshop was that we were all so sweaty by the end of it the wall ride techniques we learned at the end became even more difficult as you tended to slide down the staff as it supported your weight. Acrostaff is one of the most exciting areas of staff spinning currently and this year’s EJC has done a lot to increase its visibility and develop the sub-discipline. I, for one, am definitely excited to see where it goes in the next few years.

Other Galactic Playground workshops included Dragon Staff with the infamous Matt Bray as one of the tutors, Buugeng/S-Staff workshops with Dai, Gustavo Ollitta and others, meteor, devil sticks, contact juggling and more.

Diabolo was also extremely well-represented as shown by this extensive video that captured the best of the best diabolists in attendance.

The aerial acrobatics was the only mildly disappointing area. It took a couple of days to find out that there was an aerial rig on site and then the workshops and free time on the rig were less than many had hoped for.

Parade and Games

Crowd surfing at EJC 2013. Copyright: Dawn JamesOn the final Saturday thousands of jugglers congregated at the Metro station to take the train into town and prepare for the parade. This year’s parade was a little different with people being asked to bring an FM radio receiver and headphones to the parade.

As we amassed on one of Toulouse’s boulevards a voice started to crackle through the headphones and issue instructions to the vast crowd. As we started to march the French “Big Brother” (as we named him) got his “little hunters” (us) to play games including throwing juggling props across the 30m wide street, hiding behind tress and cars, stopping traffic, crowd surfing and plenty of screams and roars.

We passed two fountains on the way and given the scorching temperatures many people headed straight for them much to the distress of the local council!

The parade was great fun but I did get the impression that many of Toulouse’s residents were less than entertained by our presence!

The parade ended at the Capitole de Toulouse where the games took place. Games included a true five-ball endurance (no tricks) which lasted for over 20 minutes, unicycle gladiators, diabolo rugby and many more.

Shows

You’d expect nothing less from an EJC but, my word; the shows were as plentiful as they were amazing. During the day there were street shows and unicycle competitions as well as a hugely captivating little show, that featured a man making a cup of tea for 45 minutes!

There were also secret shows for people sensible enough to pre-reg early. This is a great idea but should be publicised a bit more to encourage early ticket sales.

Renegade happened almost every night with the Irish contingent taking over the final night of Renegade in preparation for EJC 2014 in County Cork. Yes, it was as raucous and as whisky fuelled as you think!

There was also an open stage most nights with the queue stretching on for what seemed like miles to get into the show. You had to get there early to get in, let alone grab a good seat! The quality of the open stage is really quite amazing and something which I’m sure the EJC and other juggling conventions around Europe help to promote by giving jugglers and spinners access to so many great shows and other manipulators to be inspired by.

EJC 2013 pass. Copyright: Dawn JamesOn the Monday night the Visual Juggling project put on a show in the fire space. This show was excellent despite being extremely “French” (acts were often without music, had strange characters and featured odd little vocals and awesome skills). My favourite act was a female juggler who did a large portion of her act sat down. Her character was seemingly very clumsy but as she tripped over or fell off of her chair she seamlessly performed acrobatics, juggling tricks or both. Marianna De Sanctis headlined the show with an innovative hoop act and a slightly angry character.

My least favourite show of the week was the Fashion Show. This featured clothes and costumes made by one of the traders. The actual performances during the show were pretty good even if they did feel a bit improvised at times. What was disappointing about the show, from my perspective, was the fairly unintelligible chaos that ran on and on before the show proper got started. This may have been due to my poor French and our less than ideal location at the side of the crowd but the first 45 minutes of the show seemed all filler and no killer.

The fire gala also left a little bit to be desired in my book. It was compered well by Kevin Arleri (of No Sweat fame) and the individual acts were pretty good, though I felt there wasn’t enough ambient light to appreciate the technicalities of performers like Rico and Lucignolo. The main issue I had with this show was the abundance of big group performances. There were at least three group performances that lasted well over 10 minutes each and were all obviously aimed at the general public rather than a juggling/spinning audience. Don’t get me wrong, all were nicely put together and did the job they were intended for but they were all pretty similar to each other and the overly dramatic music, relatively scantily clad women and basic but synchronised choreography became a little dull after the first troupe.

Wes and Patrik presented their highly technical show that they performed at the BJC this year. You could see the improvements they had made to the performance since then and it was great to see it on a proper stage with lights etc as opposed to the concrete setting of their BJC performance.

Sens Dessus Dessous, a duo rope manipulation and juggling act by Jive Faury and Kim Huynh was a very clever and touching love story told through manipulation. Some people found it a bit slow at points but I loved every minute. Ropes of varying lengths were beautifully manipulated between the two jugglers and used to create illusions. The ropes actually became characters themselves at times. These little blobs of rope were so well portrayed and imbued with character that you really began to feel for them.

Like many of the shows, Defracto’s “Closed Circuit” split opinions at the EJC (a good thing in my book – it’s a symptom of the variety we see in modern circus and juggling) with some people offering to buy tickets from other show packs to see it twice and others complaining they were bored by the show. Again, I loved it; great little weird characters, superb juggling and a touching and tragic narrative.

That leaves just one to talk about; the Gala Show. Of course, this was outstanding but it’s also great to see that the other shows in the extensive line up weren’t all that far behind it in terms of standard.

The Gala Show kicked off with a percussive number featuring one man on a guitar and the other bounce juggling on a specially designed stage that produced different sounds each time a ball hit a different part of the stage. A tight and very funny routine. Next up was a German Wheel act performed by a woman in very impractical clothes. It soon became apparent the clothes were intentionally impractical after her breasts fell out of her dress a couple of times – there is no way you’d get away with this at a British gala! Besides the nudity the act was good but it felt like it was fragmented and the character lost each time she had to reposition the wheel on stage.

EJC 2013 pool truck. Copyright: Dawn JamesNever has there been so many hairdryers in an EJC Gala! This year’s show featured two extracts from a new French show. While not overly technical these acts were very funny and the children in the audience certainly loved them. Whether intentional or not I think it’s a great idea to feature some child friendly acts in galas. After all, there are quite a few children at conventions and they are the future of juggling so it’s great to fully engage them in the big shows. Other acts included a Japanese ring juggler, Wes Peden’s solo act and a moody but technical ball juggling routine. We were also treated to some old school juggling from the American, Michael Davis. An excellent entertainer Michael was extremely funny and knew how to play the crowd – you could tell he’d been doing this job for many decades! His act was another one the kids really enjoyed and it was great to have his variety of act included in the show.

So, on to the two headliners (these acts seemed to take it in turns to headline the show during the several performances of the Gala over the week). Selyna Bogino presented a wickedly skillful and virtually flawless antipodist act using a cyclinder, basket balls and other props, all manipulated with her feet. The dexterity Selyna showed was jaw-dropping particularly when she effortlessly juggled five balls between her hands and feet. My only criticism of her act was the choice of music; a Christina Aguilera medley is, personally, not my cup of tea!

Headlining our showing of the Gala was Water on Mars; a trio act comprised of Wes Peden, Patrik Elmnert and Tony Pezzo and featuring, I’d guess, well over a hundred props. The juggling and innovation in the routine was beautiful and full of the style we’ve come to expect from these talented young jugglers. Massive passing patterns ended in passes to nowhere and drops were used to great effect at many points in the act. Water on Mars was a great act to finish with, not only because of the skill involved but seeing so many props thrown and strewn about the stage was a real visual climax to the show.

The Toulouse team did a grand job this year (I’ve not even mentioned the amazing array of live bands throughout the event), of course, there were a few small problems and the weather was too hot for some but all in all it was a superb event.

Next year the EJC is back in Ireland and it looks as though the 2015 European Juggling Convention will be held in Berlin. I cannot wait!