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The 26th European Juggling Convention, Svendborg.
5-Aug-2003 to 13-Aug-2003
We cycled to site & arrived at around 10am, we picked up our information packs, show tickets & our festival pass (a lanyard just like last year). Shortly afterwards our support vehicle turned up & we grabbed 4 tents for the TWJC contingent. We entered the site through the Green gate & were welcomed by Mini, who we chatted to for a bit before meeting up with Beth & Julien who had camped their way up through Europe (making friends with a man who had pulled a knife on a policeman en route). After setting up the tents we made another trip to our support vehicle to pick up the rest of our bags & we were done. Andrew, Anna, Jenny & Carolyn turned up a bit later & we helped them settle in with a waterfight & some sunbathing in the already scorching sun. At this point I had my first juggle of the convention - you never know how long it will be before you get to juggle again.
The main camping area was a little cramped but not enough to cause major problems. There was another seperate area for quiet family camping elsewhere. Along one side of the camping area was a tall hedge that provided a belt of shade which was probably the most popular place at the site. The spot was always packed with jugglers practising out of the sun's glare. Further on from the camping area was a large amphitheatre formed by grass banks, in the centre of which sat the beer tent & a small catering tent. Over the furthest bank was the main catering tent, renegade & open stage tents.
There were two large halls, the largest of which had a wall of grandstand seating, which was great for just sitting & watching people juggle. On the first day at the convention we picked up some beers & just sat high up in the grandstand & watched. There were lots of solid 5 club jugglers - some of them under 5 feet tall. This was when I got to see diaboloist Tony Frebourg for the first time. He was doing 3 diabolos in the air with pirouettes & around the worlds, then going into 3 on the string & then sinking into the splits. I also watched him try a 3 diabolo on the string suicide which he came very close to pulling off. I watched the hall for a long time that night.
The largest hall also had that all important feature that is air-conditioning! Also in the main sports complex were many showers which on one of the days even had hot water! The toilets were clean & even had flowers on display.
The on site catering was on the whole very good. Breakfast was pretty good value, you could fill up a tray with various cereals, yoghurts, bread rolls & so on for 30Dkr. Although it was saddening to see the staff struggling to stop people barging in without paying & trying to leave with armfuls of bread rolls. Afternoon & evening meals were supplied by another group of caterers, I never had one of these meals after seeing the food being brought out by someone with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
The most popular tent at the festival though was probably the small veggie catering tent next to the beer tent. For 20Dkr they were serving falafel in pita bread with salad, & we were eating it considerably faster than they could make it. This was in spite of the fact that most people didn't even know what it was (a mix chickpeas, onion, egg & a variety of spices according to various recipes). I think the most I ate in one evening was 4.
I was a little disheartened that some of the animosoty over the war in Iraq reared its ugly head from a small minority. One guy tried to get a rise out of me, but that was nothing compared to what some American jugglers had to suffer. What started off as light hearted teasing became more malevolent over the festival with some really tasteless heckles. It is official - Merkin bashing is not funny anymore.
I thought the number of American & British people who opposed the war was publicised well enough so that an assumption of someone's stance on the war could not be made based on their nationality but I guess not. I think that people should also check to see if their country has done something that they are ashamed of before judging others too.
One notable part of the convention were the spiders. Not just the sheer number of them but the size & variety. Beth was the first to encounter a sizeable arachnid when she emerged one morning with a £2 coin sized black thing with thick furry legs. Beth & I recreated the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indie & his guide are in the cave & he knocks the tarantulas off their backs. When the spider landed near Andrew he recreated the scene with the rolling boulder.
Another day I had to grab from the ceiling of our tent one which had a tiny black & red body but enormously long legs that covered half the palm of my hand.
The best one of the festival by far though was the one we shook out of our tent when we were packing up. I don't think it was the largest but it was pretty big & it had a large, ugly looking bright green body. A few people came over to take a look at the creature as it strode across the firebreak & told us about different spiders they had encountered. Many thanks to the guy who scooped it up with a pamphlet & dropped it over the fence for us. I usually don't have a problem with spiders but I didn't like the way this one was looking at me.
I never really went to the open stage shows at Bremen last year. Aside from the large number of clowns present when I did go I never really got what it was about. I thought it was an attempt to tame our beloved renegade show. I caught quite a few of the open stages this year & was very impressed with the quality.
One of the most memorable performers of the convention was Phax, a mime artist from France who quite simply did everything in slow motion. Sounds pretty uninteresting but he was oh so slick, & had bags of character.
There was a good slackrope act performed by a strange man in drag, his most notable trick for me was when he stood in the centre & held the rope tight to his feet & then tumbled end over end. Also on that night was a guy juggling balls out of a cereal packet & a nice act involving just one ball & one club that really focussed on movement.
On one of the nights we were introduced to an act after which it was said we would all believe in angels. Out went the lights then they faded back in revealing a mysterious cloaked figure. Then he threw back the cloak revealing a dazzling silver costume complete with huge wings sparkling in the spotlights. This would've been a really beautiful thing, had it not been for the camp dancing that said disco diva/gay icon attempt rather than heavenly angel. After the dancing the performer picked up a glow staff, although not your normal Aerotech jobbie, this staff had loads of different colours & drew some very pretty trails. The best part of the act was when he switched to a firestaff. Instead of the usual two wicks at each end this staff was covered in wick almost in its entirety, only a short length in the centre was bare. When lit the staff generated a lot of light, which in turn reflected in shimmers off the silvery costume. It looked like the T1000 from Terminator 2 in liquid form was on stage, excellent stuff.
Allesandro performed a truly brilliant contact juggling act. Playing the part of a robot in a machine he 'processed' acrylics, dragging them round in a square while doing isolations on each corner before placing & rolling them in a circular track on a table, all perfectly timed to industrial sound effects. After a few balls had run their cycle through the machine, the machine started to have technical difficulties & eventually broke allowing the robot to break free & experiment with non uniform moves. Simply a well thought out, well choreographed & very well performed act. This one places very high up on my list of favourite acts of the festival.
Nils Poll performed a bit of manic cigar boxing. He really bashed them around at a dizzying pace. Not to sure about the incessant "Hup! Hey! Houpla!", although I did like the neat way of disguising a drop by stacking all the boxes on the floor & posing on top of them. Also from Denmark was the Professional Idiot, after learning of his nationality all at TWJC were hoping to see his act again after first seeing it in Whitstable. The act was pretty much exactly the same as we had seen before although his boxer shorts had changed from the Union flag to the Danish national flag! An enormous jumping green balloon is still funny.
One of the people who I was looking forward to seeing perform most was Maksim Komaro of Peapot fame. I certainly wasn't disappointed, although more than a little frustrated at the 'no clapping' rule placed on the audience throughout his spot. A long run of solid 5 ball back crosses, some very fluid three ball trickery around an entwining ballet dancing partner & lots of original tricks performed with numerous balls & buckets. Maksim combined toss juggling with shaker cup & cigar box moves to make up a wonderfully varied routine.
Sadly I missed Jay Gilligan, Luke Burrage's video act (may have seen it once or twice before though), Ville Walo & many other great acts.
The first act was Matt Hall. He worked up through the numbers with 3 to 7 balls doing all sorts of siteswaps, plus some really smooth breakdancing moves. Strangely one of the best bits of the act for me was when he dropped & bent down to pick up the ball robot style. Just me then? Ok. Then he moved on to do some equally good 2 diabolo trickery. Excellent way to pick up the show Matt. Denmark's favourite Nils Poll seemed to be on & off in an eye blink, his act was so short which I thought was a shame. Although the juggling of three soaking wet hats was fun to watch.
Competing for the title of best act of the show was The International Juggling Orchestra. The IJO was an act that was put together at the festival by Antonio, set to classical music a range of ball, ring & club jugglers, a diaboloist, two club swingers & a pint sized conductor filled the stage & created a wonderful sight. The 'musicians' were very well arranged on their own they wouldn't have looked much, but as a collective the visual effect was stunning. The touches of humour added by young 8 year old Ofec & the interuption in the music were fun too.
Two people combined to make a tiny man who danced on an ironing board, they were ok but certainly not up to the standard of comedy duo Men in Coats who performed at the Tunbridge Wells Winter Festival 2000. Calvin did a contact juggling piece which commented on religion, but I wasn't really paying any attention to all that. I was far more interested in the way he could flip a ball balanced on one elbow to the other so easily. Then when he balanced one ball on each elbow & swapped them over I was more than a bit impressed. Top three ballist Jamie Fletcher did one of the routines we saw at our own Tunbridge Wells Juggling Festival, although he suffered a few drops he pulled it off well, he certainly knows how to construct a good routine & perform it well. Plus he is an extremely good juggler. When he finished Tasj turned to me & said, "We love Jamie, he's so cute". Yes we do & he's ok looking.
The best act of the show was of course Vova & Olga. Their juggling just keeps coming on in leaps & bounds, each time I see them is more exciting than the last. Lots of high numbers passing with pirouettes & back to back, 5 club steals & a clean 11 club finish. You'd be hard pressed to see a better juggling act. Why they closed the first half rather than the whole show is a mystery.
After the break there was some people in horse costumes riding round in circles on unicycles. & that was it. Why? From America Rhys Thomas did some nice shaker cup tricks & also some plate juggling stuff then he span various plates & bowls on a rack of poles. I really liked the bit where he tapped out a tune on the bowls as they were spinning. All the way through his act he told a stream of gags which were amusing but the delivery was far too rehearsed & controlled for them to be laugh out loud funny. I preferred Rhys's much more spontaneous spot on Renegade with the meat cleaver.
Ah! Another highlight were The Boogie Boys, a large troupe of acrobats dressed in all sorts of costumes from Indian chief to martial arts expert. They did loads of manic vaulting & tumbling over a box & loads of stupid slapstick humour. The act was really fast, wild & seemed completely out of control, there certainly weren't many safety checks on the equipment. How refreshing, how Heineken.
Stefan Zimmerman & a very attractive & talented violinist performed a very slick act. She played her violin, he bounced out a rhythm using up to 5 silis on drums, the stage & snares. Excellent stuff. The last act of the show was Luka Luka, again a highly technical club juggling, stealing & passing routine performed almost flawlessly. Unfortunately I had only just seen the duo perform in Brighton a few months earlier so they just didn't seem as spectacular the second time around.
It was an ok show, all the acts were very good in their own right, the main problem I had was with the way the show was put together. The compere really killed the pace of the show. The technical problems certainly didn't help either, the compere's mic didn't work at the start of the show (not a bad thing many would say) & the video screens were useless. For a gala show I was disappointed. Every night of open stage was better, there were some good acts, some astounding acts even, but as a package it didn't work.
Why is it that the BJC gets around 650 attendees & the EJC gets over 2000 yet the renegade tents are roughly the same size? Renegade at the EJC wasn't all that different from that at a BJC, probably because Luke Burrage seemed to host most of the nights. I don't remember much, possibly because I kept popping out to stock up on falafel. I remember a bit about the night when Carolyn & I had a race to see who could drink a bottle of wine the quickest. She finished just before me, & then she pointed out that her bottle of white was 1% more than my bottle of red. But I was capable of walking back into the renegade tent & she was too drunk to even try so I count that as a win for me.
I remember one guy who strapped up a load of clubs into 2 bundles then hung them from his ear lodes & spun around for a bit. Mini jumped around on stage to the sound of Nelly the Elephant & there were a few enthusiastic sing-a-longs to Danish supergroup Aqua's Barbie Girl. Two guys, one with a bicycle helmet & the other with a guitar took the stage, then the one with the guitar smashed it over the other guy's head. The helmet slipped during the second swing. The guitar then made it to the floor & was jumped on. Then Luke came out & had a go & almost sprained his ankle in the process. All good fun.
Thomas Dietz & Mark Probst drunk an enormous amount of alcohol while doing 5, 6 & 7 ball tricks, & throwing out miniatures into the audience. Later I learned that some of the bottles contained water, but it was still a legendary act.
The great BJC tradition of the Reduced Public Show Company took place & interestingly the company were considerably more entertaining than the actual show they were making fun of.
Jay Gilligan came out on stage & asked the audience to heckle him throughout his entire act, everyone was more than happy to oblige. He performed lots of baffling patterns with 3 rings, at the end of the act he tried to flick all 3 rings from around his neck & catch them albert style between his legs. He missed the first 2 attempts during a rising chant of "you can't juggle", then nailed the third with the rings hanging around his wrist & his hand giving the audience the finger. Class.
Nico did some fire juggling although watching Mini scurry across the stage to stop the drops torching the whole tent was far more entertaining. Matt Hall did some neat Kendama tricks, & amusingly fielded heckles in Japanese. He also did a superb cigar box spot although all I remember was a move where he pinned all three boxes with one hand against the side of his foot.
It was a great & very well organised festival & a very enjoyable holiday. Denmark is a lovely country especially if you enjoy the ocean & swimming. Many thanks to Grethe & Eigel for picking us up from the airport & settling us in, Anker & Sysser for the very kind loan of their lovely house for 4 days, Lizzie & Kurt for the fantastic hospitality, all of the wonderful food & the very pleasant boat trip. Bo, Kirsten, Nana & Sidsel for the very enjoyable barbecue. Lene for even more lifts & for saving Andrew & me from going on a shopping spree with the girls & Tasj for her unending translating skills & generally guiding me round her country.