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The 29th European Juggling Convention, Millstreet
9-Jul-2006 to 16-Jul-2006
The site was once used to host the Eurovision Song Contest before being turned into an equestrian centre. The main juggling hall was affectionately referred to as the world's largest cow shed by many. This space was very good but it got pretty cramped at 'peak' times. Right next to this was the main stage which hosted all the open stages & the main public show. The seats were good & a little bit of a run the long way round found us snagging the same seats dead in the centre of the back row for 6 of the 7 shows we saw in there without the need for fighting your way through the ruck at the start of the queue. A little further on was the bar which was shockingly closed on the first night. Set up in the corner of the bar were the nice folks from Juggling.tv who broadcast various juggling films on 2 big screens pretty much non stop making for an excellent chill out space.
Outside in front of the main building was a wide open lawn which was well stocked with sun worshippers throughout the week & was where we spent most of our time. It was on this lawn that Nicky & I first heard Aussie band The Cat Empire, they were the sound of the convention & I urge everyone to buy all their albums. Further down the hill were the Chillout, Alternative & Massacre tents (Renegade renamed in tribute to Johnny Massacre a popular Irish street entertainer who had recently passed away) then beyond that there was plenty of camping space & a fair amount of useful shade too.
The onsite catering was pretty good, the Spanish tent did a tasty plate full in the evenings & provided the familiar bell ringing whenever the pasta was ready. Another stall sold Turkish food, which was alright but a bit cold when we tried them. Next along the line was the hippy veggie stall which always had the most customers outside & was a fine source of a Good Cuppa™ & some very nice clotted cream fudge. At the start of the week a stall sold some delicious pancakes & had a pedal powered smoothie making machine. This was replaced after a few days with another vendor selling very nice locally produced beef burgers & hotdogs. The top place to eat though was the Nibbles cafe. I had a full cooked breakfast there every day of the festival. Their cakes were excellent too, especially the triple chocolate mousse cake.
A common problem that a lot of people commented on was the horrendously expensive price of alcohol. I don't know if all the publicans & shopkeepers had got inside information about the upcoming surge in demand & hiked the prices accordingly. A bottle of cider was almost twice as expensive as it was back home in England.
The other side of town was not so nice, we went out on Saturday evening to find something to eat & a pub for a real pint of Guinness as instructed by several friends who had been to Ireland before. We picked up a pizza before being accosted by a very drunk local who wanted to talk to us about the queen. We gave up & headed back to site. During the parade a guy questioned us about our faith & insisted on blessing us in the street. I'm sure he meant well but that didn't make me feel comfortable. If I didn't have a juggling convention & 2500 odd friends to hang around with I don't think I would have enjoyed the holiday.
One afternoon I was mesmerised by a couple of guys sitting cross legged on either side of a percussion instrument that I had never seen before. It was like a large metal mushroom with a whole on top which the two musicians tapped & batted with their hands to make deep chiming sounds. They looked like two grand masters engrossed in a game of chess. Very hypnotic & calming. On another day I spotted a couple trying to roll someone who was asleep on the bank back into the shade as the sun moved & trying very carefully not to wake him up which made me smile.
The bar was home to loads of great events throughout the week. The projector screen was used to show the world cup final & was packed with a lot of very enthusiastic supporters from France & Italy. For the rest of the convention people kept head butting various props & calling the trick 'The Zidane'.
The practise of pegging was certainly popular at this festival. Pegging is the simple act of attaching a clothes peg to someone's clothes or hair without them noticing, I managed several successful peggings throughout the week but was pegged myself on numerous occasions at the airport on the way home. The air stewards on the flight home didn't understand it all.
Luke Wilson did a one man show made of many examples of some very geeky juggling. I thought the juggling of 3 sticks half painted in red & the other half blue with complex sequences of singles, halves & flats to finish with matching colours was particularly mindbending. He also tried to solve a scrambled Rubik's cube within a piece of music all the time running back to a table & juggling a ball sequence whenever the music changed, sadly he didn't make it in time. Despite Luke's dip in form for the show I actually liked it but I think many others found it a bit boring.
The Juggle Jam is certainly proving popular as a new twist on the traditional renegade format. I thought it was great fun watching Matias Salmenaho trying to squeeze in a somersault under a 'high' throw when the ceiling was quite clearly way too low. He was agonisingly close pretty much every time though. Lots of other good tricks were on display, I really liked the tray spinning which had 2 silicon balls rolling in circles on top (3 didn't quite happen), Matt Hennem was superb with his break dancing contact, the serious chap from Israel ran lots of 5 ball siteswaps, someone I don't know did a fantastic combination with 3 balls involving rapid shootouts with behind the head throws & last microsecond penguin catches with outstretched arms, I don't think I'll ever get bored of watching Marcus Furtner's devilstick skills, Marco Paoletti & Jay Gilligan threw multiplexes with lots & lots of balls, Paul Taylor showed that he is very good at juggling behind the back blind.
The celebrity fight night was a new experience for me & was the most entertaining night of the whole convention for me. The format was simple, a knockout tournament of 1 on 1 gladiators.
One such showdown saw the Shilton brothers battle it out, Sergev showed little mercy for his little brother, & Ofek certainly held his own well but his lack of height proved to be his downfall. Everyone was juggling clubs apart from Marcus Furtner who competed with his signature double devilsticks, his tactics were pretty much the same for every battle - run round the outside so his competitor was behind him then spend the rest of the match looking over his shoulder while doing high throws & swinging his arms at his opponent all the while maintaining his propellors blind.
The star of the evening was by far my hero Jay Gilligan, who outshone every other competitor by far & made me totally rethink my own style of play. His first battle saw him fight against Marcus & Zyllan Spilsbury, it was quite ferocious & at one point Jay's club broke but he managed to carry on by juggling the leftover bits. Jay technically lost the battle but because he knocked either Marcus or Zyllan out considerably more than they knocked him out he was brought back by audience demand for the next round.
Other memorable moments were when Jay went into 4 after stealing Johan's hat, Zyllan & Jay both stealing one of the other's clubs during a leaping collision. The final saw Jay versus Luke Burrage & although Luke had progressed to the final with little trouble he was still outclassed. The pair went at each other with style & theatre. Jay won 4 points in a row so started teasing Luke by purposefully dropping to give him a point, but then Luke came back with a great steal from 3 to 4 clubs which was the best play of the night for me. As Jay won the final bout the crowd exploded, everyone clearly enjoyed the event as much as I did.
The Opening Show
This is how things should be done. A show with zero padding, just 2 of the best acts Iíve seen. Jay Gilligan & Manu Laude or Kuka as they are collectively known (not Kaku as the compere called it) had their marketing tactics spot on - run a workshop on 6 ball juggling between 2 people that is so popular that it takes up most of the main hall early in the afternoon then show everyone how it is really done in the evening. They juggled a cascade with their arms entwined & slotted though each other's in lots of interesting ways, Manu sat on the floor & juggled 531 mills mess exchanging balls with Jay's standard mills mess who was standing behind him, they passed a 6 ball shower between them across the stage. I'd like to describe all the other tricks that they did but they were far too intricate for me to work out properly.
Then on came Kris Kremo & blew the whole audience away. His act was precisely the same as what every juggler worth their salt has seen on a video. Tight, fast & oozing class. Kris has got stage presence by the bucket load & knows how to use under statement, a tool long since forgotten by most modern performers. A good performer should give the audience queues for applause, Kris would do a sequence stop, smile & simply point to the audience, no flourish of the wrist, no thrusting the arm into the air just, "that was my trick, now you tell me how good it was" & we lapped it up. I tend not to like performers who are more enthused with their act than I am. It struck me while watching him perform that his juggling was very simple - no complicated patterns, no siteswaps or anything like that, just pure solid runs of a clawed rolling out cascade, continuous under the leg, a wide overhead cascade etc. Tricks designed to appeal to the mass market stage audiences rather than the technically aware jugglers of today. Yet the level of precision with which he juggled these 'simple' tricks was high enough for his act to cross back over & be appealing to jugglers again. Did that make sense? Let's just carry on...
The quality of the open stage was quite simply excellent.
Marcus Furtner did 2 spots, on the first night he performed a purely technical sports juggling themed routine with a running commentary from Luke. The next evening he showed his artistic side by doing an expressive dance number in a beautiful strappy top. He's great. Tempei wowed everyone with his fantastic vertax tricks including his now signature multiple genocide trick.
Jay Gilligan & Matias Salmenaho mucked around with clubs rolling & flipping clubs off their bodies into the other's pattern in various ways, Jay juggled 6 clubs & Matias flashed 7 solo, passing 8, 9 & finishing with a long run of 10 clubs. An excellent high energy & fun routine with Matias jumping somersaults seemingly at random throughout.
Samuli Mannisto did some fantastic tennis ball & can work but unfortuantely for me his choice of music was a narrative about the death of a guy named Jimmy that was so engrossing that I couldn't keep my attention on the juggling. He also spent 5 minutes walking around & sitting on the stage with a ball balanced on his head. I didn't get it.
One of the top acts of the week was a collaboration piece between 7 jugglers from France & Germany to the sounds of Kiss by Prince. The performers took turns to dance & juggle in pairs sharing their props in interesting ways the best move of the spot for me was a vertax diabolo thrown across the stage to be caught by a club juggler in a scissor catch. Probably the sexiest juggling routine I've seen.
Luke also amazed me by showing me some single diabolo tricks that I haven't seen before, all performed with good humour.
Toby Walker was typically Toby Walker, 5 club flats, 753, 5 club over head cascade, a 5 up pirouette, 5 club mills mess & a nice run of 7 clubs. Still astounding.
3 ball maestro Stefan Sing was excellent as always with 1 to 6 balls. Mixed with his smooth ballet like style he performed some really impossible head roll tricks while lying on the floor, slick fast transitions between various 3 ball half contortionist moves, a superb pair of 3 ball half turns under a behind the head throw all under a high throw back into 4 balls. He was a joy to watch & I didn't want it to end.
The runaway star of the week was Morgan from France, he juggled 3 balls sometimes standing, sometimes sitting on a chair. He performed without any music or patter which is usually a no no for me, acts should always be both audio & visual. Fortunately the audio was provided in the form of audience appreciation, mostly exclamations of disbelief. We clapped after pretty much every trick he did, especially his very smooth 1 hand & 1 foot cascade, the headrolls & the sole of the foot catches.
This show was billed as "A showcase of outstanding Irish juggling, circus and performance skills" & turned out to be pretty much the worst show I have ever seen. Aside from Tom the contact juggler & Jeremy James' ring juggling finale every act was painful to watch. Beth, Nicky & many others didnít bother coming back from the interval. I was interested to see just how bad it could get. The bulk of the show consisted of Rusty & Chuggy doing a couple of acts that were aimed at toddlers. I patiently waited for them to get off stage. Johnny the juggler (strange for a juggling convention) did some nice tricks with 5 silis & stage balls but was nothing spectacular. The send up of the Eurovision Song Contest where the performer struggled to mime to a recording suffering from technical difficulties was amusing for a minute or so, unfortunately repeating the funny bits over & over makes them less funny. Jeremy James closed the show with some superb ring juggling accompanied by his wife Sabina on the harp. I particularly liked the pancake kickup from 4 to 5, the 3 ring behind the back ring grind transfer sequence & of course his ring grind into 7 rings to a pulldown finishing trick. Worth waiting for.
Owen Reynolds, Malte Steinmitz & Howie Bailey performed as Freehand Juggling with their highly choreographed programmable gloclub routine but without the distracting back screens that detracted from their performance at BJC 2006, the result was much more watchable. Tina Tumble performed in the air on silks, aerial acts still fail to inspire me. Luke & Pola performed their art of juggling piece which I was pleased to see has become a little more polished since Bodmin. Tony Frebourg switched between performing acrobatics & some highly technical diabolo work finishing with a run of 4 diabolos, a 3 diabolo rocket start 3 up pirouettes & 3 on the string while doing the splits.
Master hat juggler Lorenzo Mastropietro apparently won the Eurovision Juggling Competition which I managed to miss completely. The funniest bit of his act was where he put on his coat backwards & upside down bent over & wore his head on his backside before doing a few tricks as a midget. Lorenzo was exceptional good at 3 hats performing complex sequences at great speed. Then he did with 4 hats what most average performers do with 3. Then again with 5, before ending with a 5 hat cascade.
Opening the second half was the professional idiot Mr Toons playing around with his enormous balloon atop a tall giraffe (7 possibly 8 ft) before making to the stage, still childish & still very funny. Jeremy James performed more of the ring juggling seen in the Emerald Circus show, same juggling but a different routine, just as excellent. Marco Paoletti filled the stage with balls & ran all over the place running lots of 4, 5 & 6 ball siteswaps with various body throws ↦ passes. He may not be as technically accomplished as Ben Beever but he is certainly more creative. Ryo Yabe again performed the same routine seen at this year's BJC, fast, dramatic, extremely technical & precise.
Closing the show was Sergei Ignatov he juggled 5 then 7 large stage balls, then juggled 7 then 5 rings with a run of pancakes & a 5 up pirouette. After that he moved onto 5 clubs with some back crosses, then did some 3 & 4 club tricks before finishing with a 9 ring pulldown. Honestly, I was less than enthused he gave the impression that he didn't want to be there & I heard many tales of him being particularly grumpy with people during the festival. He told Jay Gilligan to go back to practising with 1 ball to help his 6 & asked Peter Bone how he ever expected to juggle 9 throwing the way he did (Pete was too scared to tell him he was practising 11 at the time). Yes he was amazing but unlike Kris Kremo this legend has passed.
It was a good show, but not particularly exciting for me seeing as I had only just seen 3 acts at the BJC, all of which were good to see again but I will always prefer something new.