Several Ann Arborites attended the 1999 IJA convention in Niagara Falls, New York, July 27-31, 1999: myself, Regina, Dave Lewis, Dave Heald, Fred, and others I'm temporarily forgetting.
Some of this I wrote down within a week or so of getting back. But I have a pretty crummy memory, so there's a lot left out, and a lot that may be inaccurate.
ShowsThe festival was expensive (nearly 300 dollars), but one of the things that really made it worthwhile for me was the inspiring performances.
I remember when I first heard about the group "airjazz", my first reaction was "damn! The coolest possible name for a juggling group has already been taken." They no longer perform together regularly, but they do occasional shows like this one. Their show lived up to the name--there was lots of beautiful, creative stuff.
Here's one act I remember: imagine yourself taking three tall silvery poles, and standing them on end in a row in front of you, spaced maybe a couple feet apart. As soon as you take your hand off one of them it will, of course, start to fall over (slowly; the poles are a good 8 feet tall). You've only got two hands, and there are three poles, so you'll have to move your hands back and forth between them to keep the poles upright. They did a number of variations on this basic idea, but I was fascinated just watching those three poles go slightly in and out of parallel.
They also did an act involving the manipulation of balls of drastically different sizes (monstrous beach-balls, smaller stage balls). And there were lots of other pieces that I've forgotten. But everything was very creative, and very beautiful to watch. I'm too used to thinking of juggling as a hobby, or as something that comedians do; I forget that it can also be an art form.
The Cascade of Stars
There was amazing stuff in this show. I had no idea that people could do such astonishingly difficult things while, at the same time, putting on such great performances. For example, there was a fantastic diabolo-spinner (diabolist?) who did lots of technically difficult tricks; but, in addition, he had this wonderful, smooth, perhaps slightly sleezy, character, and the moves and the music to go along with it. His act was more like a dance in which one of the dancers was an object.
Some of the acts weren't so much juggling so much as--well, I don't know what you'd call it--creative object manipulation? In one of my favorites, there were perhaps 5 or 6 white balls hung from the ceiling by string, on an otherwise black stage. A man pushed and pulled the balls to set them swinging in complicated patterns. It's hard to explain in words, but the visual effect was very striking.
I expected to see lots of difficult tricks, and was not disappointed; Kris Kremo's 3-ball routine, for example, was out of this world. But what floored me was the artistry--instead of thinking, gee, that was a great show for an audience of jugglers, I came away thinking, wow, why doesn't juggling get more respect? Everyone should be seeing these acts!
The Gandini Project
The Gandini project is a group from Britain with a lot of clever ideas; they did an informal show one day in the gym. Really interesting stuff, but hard to describe---ask someone to see a video.... They won the "people's choice award" for the festival, which is based on votes by attendees.
Please, explain to me who thought it would be a good idea not to have an intermission? The competitions were great, but the juniors, the individuals, and the teams, together, add up to a lot of sitting.
Anyway, everything was great. As with the Cascade of Stars, there was a lot of variety, although I was a bit disappointed that some of the more interesting acts didn't get awards; for example, two of the Gandini's did really fascinating routines, but their routines were short and unconventional, and they didn't even place.
On the other hand, it was hard to fault the judge's choices; for example, the winners of both the juniors and the individual competitions both did pretty standard vegas-style acts, but both of them pulled off impossibly difficult tricks with hardly a fumble, and with lots of style.
In general, the level of technical skill had to be seen to be believed; most of the juniors were doing tricks I wouldn't dream of attempting.
There was also some between-act filler that was good; for example, Dan Bennett did a great (and very funny) act involving the manipulation of toilet plungers, and the balancing of bowling balls on his head.
Previously called "renegade" shows, these have been a mainstay of festivals for years. Anyone can sign up (and does), the humor is a bit raunchier, the acts a bit rougher. The heckling is out of this world. Some favorites of mine:
WorkshopsThere were workshops every day; a few examples:
On the last day there were games. It had been a long five days, and it felt nice to relax a bit, play some of the silly games, and sit and watch some of the others:
So far, you might think we spent all our time trooping from workshop, to show, back to workshop, etc. But the "organized" stuff was really only a small part of the convention. I spent a lot of time tossing 5 clubs in to the air and watching them collide with the carpet (a nice touch, by the way---the concrete arena floor would have been much more annoying if most of it hadn't been covered over with a thin layer of carpet. The organizers also made sure that a good part of the floor was friendly to bounce jugglers---they really thought of everything.) I passed with a lot of people, both the Ann Arborites that I came with, and with many kind strangers; a nice way to meet interesting people.
The perimeter of the arena was lined with tables of juggling props and other fascinating toys. I did cave in and spend some money, but I had the most fun just looking at stuff. One guy was selling these amazing programmable glowing props....
Oh, and we even took a look at the Falls, as long as we were there. Cool.