The BJC 2012 – Southend-on-Sea, 11th- 15th April
The British Juggling Convention celebrated its 25th birthday by the seaside. Southend’s leisure and tennis centre played host to several hundred jugglers, unicyclists, spinners and object manipulators all camped on their sports fields.
The centre boasted a very large hall that was used as the 24hour juggling space. The hall was (oddly) partitioned in the centre allowing one side to be used for German Wheels, unicyclists and various other toys with wheels while the other side still had plenty of room for all the other props.
There was also a dedicated workshop space and a dance studio to play in. The weather was also kind enough to us to allow a bit of outdoor play, depending on how wind-proof your prop was!
All the usual workshops were abound; juggling, spinning, handstands etc and the Torwood Wheelers ran German Wheel sessions most mornings to help satisfy the massive demand. Other unusual workshops included lock picking, origami, juggling while beatboxing, levi-stick, photography and the ukulele.
The usual array of shows was also present for the BJC’s 25th anniversary. The Open Stage started us off on the Thursday featuring Joff’s monkey poi act and Rob’s umbrella dragon staff number to name but two of the acts. The Old Skool followed with some of the… ahem… more mature veterans of the BJC showing us they’ve still got what it takes!
Friday evening had two shows scheduled: the Gandinis' “The Event” and a showcase of students from Circus Space and Circomedia. The circus schools’ show was an impressive display of skill in a whole range of props, though, surprisingly, no aerial acts. I got the impression the projects the students were working on had to feature some furniture given the number of tables and chairs in the acts. Matt Green’s glitchy (musically) club juggling act (with added coffee table) was my personal favourite.
The Gandini Juggling Project’s “The Event” was a sight to behold; tight as you like with plenty of smiles – it looked like they were having fun on stage. Despite the number of performers on stage, the vast amount of props used and the 45 minute length of the show there were only a handful of unchoreographed drops. Utterly amazing, the hours and hours these guys must put in beggars belief! The Gandini’s work has a certain hypnotic quality to it; with so much going on it’s impossible to focus on one thing and you end up gazing at it as a whole, constantly shifting pattern. If only they’d snuck in an anti-smoking subliminal message!
Friday also saw the BJC celebrate its birthday it style with a black and silver tie themed party in the bar tent. Cover band Scooby didn’t know what had hit them! And neither did we! A party like that hasn’t been seen in recent BJC history, if ever. There was much dancing, moshing and even some crowd surfing. I don’t think the band expected jugglers to be such a rowdy bunch! The crowd would hardly let them leave!
The parade returned on the Saturday after a few year hiatus with a procession of jugglers marching (well, ambling) along Southend seafront to the delight of the tourists and locals out for a breath of sea air. The parade finished up at the location for the games which involved all the usual silliness mixed with the more prestigious events like five ball endurance. The BJC games also hosted seven club endurance for the first time in its history. An impressive number people participated (about 6) but it was more like “who can flash seven clubs” than an endurance competition!
Like any juggling convention, the main show is the climax of the event. Cliff’s Pavilion was our venue and legend of the British juggling scene, Donald Grant, was out compere. The acts included:
• Phil Os’ rock ‘n’ roll diabolo routine
• Ian Marchant with a comedy street routine
• Matthias Romir – “Pinball Paranoia” hats and balls act
• Gunnar Erik’s handstand performance
• The Gandinis’ glow club routine
• Tony Pezzo manipulating and juggling rings
• Rod Laver juggling ping pong balls with his mouth
• Matthias Romir with clubs this time
• Tigris – hula hoop
• Françoise Rochais headlining with a ring and baton act
Every act was fantastic but my personal favourites include Matthias Romir and his melancholic clown character that was maintained even through the final bow. I particularly enjoyed his second act where he manipulated clubs after blowing up a balloon inside his hood which then became his face after periodically drawing features on it with a marker pen. This meant he did the majority of this act blind. Funny, impressive and slightly dark stuff.
The Gandinis were, of course, excellent. Their precise style was complimented by the programming of their glow clubs so they changed colour at exactly the right moments. Tony Pezzo was one for the lovers of technical juggling. His ring manipulation/juggling routine featured no costume or character but the skills on display more than made up for that. His act wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I’d much rather see hardcore skills with no costume than great outfits but only basic tricks. Thumbs up from me!
Rod Laver was also extremely good, as you'd expect from the head of juggling at both UK circus schools. His ping pong act combined comedy and skill superbly and included a rendition of Beethoven's 9th played on gin bottles from ping pong balls fired from his mouth!
And then it was Sunday and we had to pack and say goodbye to our circus family. But not before one more show from the Gandinis though! These guys and gals must be the hardest working people in juggling business!
What a fantastic few days! Well done to all the people involved in organising it. My only criticism is that it wasn’t longer – with so much going on it felt like we were going home only a few hours after arriving! Here’s to more week-long BJCs!
See you in York next year for the BJC 2013…