Saturday, 17 January 2015

Chapter 59: Gandini Juggling's 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures

"Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns, controlling patterns in time and space."
Ronald Graham (Mathmetician)

One of the best birthday presents I ever had as a child was a spirograph, the geometric drawing toy that enabled you to design intricate patterns using interlocking plastic cogs. My friends and I used to spend hours on end with it, using pens of different colours, to create colourful works of art. I was reminded of this on Tuesday night, watching Gandini Juggling spin patterns of mathematical beauty with an assortment of hoops, clubs and coloured balls in their thought-provoking 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, part of the London International Mime Festival. 4x4 refers to the collaboration between four jugglers and four ballet dancers set to live classical music in such a way as to build transient bridges between these worlds. Lines are indicated by bodies, shapes created through a manipulation of objects, and ephemeral architectures are glimpsed for a moment before moving on - the very definition of poetry in motion.

I had been looking forward to this evening for months. Captivated by the sheer skill of Gandini Juggling in their superb family show at circus-themed Camp Bestival in summer (click here for post) the move from festival tent to the stage of the Royal Opera House signalled a whole different ball game. The two spaces for me represent the two different directions of circus, the spectacle of grand entertainment and razzmatazz that is most at home in a Big Top, and the more reflective, contemporary circus. And while Gandini Juggling can operate in either camp for sure, its raison d'être is the latter. 

The evening began with the silhouettes of the performers emerging through a haze, jugglers circulating glowing orbs in the air like some celestial dance of the spheres, while the dancers weaving their own complimentary patterns in harmony with the complex musical score tailor-made for the occasion by Nimrod Borenstien. For the next hour I was transported.  The costumes were dark - a mass of serious blacks and muted greys, but nevertheless it was an evening rich in humour and patterns of colour.

Rhythm was set by the beat of the music, the pulse of the balls, and a sequence of utterances by the performers - jugglers sequencing the balls "green white yellow yellow…" with the odd flash of cheek from a ballerina to finish it off. I hadn't expected speech in a mime festival!  But the importance of a word or phrase was as much in the reiteration of a pattern as the meaning. "There is a system; a way of deciphering. There is a code; a way of reading; there is a puzzle, a way of unlocking the labyrinth" we are told. Now I'm not about to launch into a discourse on the semiotics of ballet and juggling, but there is a case to be made, I believe, for looking at a movement as the signifier unlocking the signified (the concept) in a study of this piece.

The dexterity of the jugglers building structures and framing spaces was breath-taking. The dancers threaded and pirouetted their way through airborne hoops, balls and clubs with a deftness and grace that was sublime. Often their lines would be partially obscured by the objects being thrown so that it was hard to tell where a limb ended and a club began. What also struck me in this fusion of ballet and juggling was that as well as a reciprocal seeping of influence between disciplines - dancers throwing balls, jugglers fleet of foot - each performer maintained an identifiable character and created a unique dynamic with their counterpart from the other discipline. There were moments that touched on a sexual chemistry, the very title of the musical score was Suspended Opus 69 after all, and you have to wonder if that isn't a nod to the mutual gratification found in the coming together of the two art forms. There was the charged tracing of a ballet dancer's finger down a back a juggler's back that would jerk in reciprocity, interlocking bodies in notes of a studied tango, a female juggler being effectively blindfolded by other hands as she keeps her balls in the air, the challenge to a male juggler by two flirtatious, pouting ballerinas to juggle more and more balls, while whispering distractions in his ears. My favourite part was the mesmerising rotation of clubs on the floor,  each one spinning in turn round the kneeling juggler, as a dancer arched back-to-back, the curve and the connection suspending time itself...

There are a number of ways I was going to end this post:
1) The Grand Finale: I was going to draw comparisons between the show and the depth of colour and richness of a Rembrandt masterpiece, only a rotten 48 hour vomiting bug put paid to my visit to the National Gallery this week ...
2) Or maybe I could throw up a pithy quote, by someone like Borges on the nature of labyrinths and puzzles, too laboured?!
3) Or with a photo of me balancing a peacock feather on one finger this week at Circus Space, my audition piece for Gandini Juggling… (!!!)
4) So maybe best to leave it with this blogger pondering ways to end a blog post, in the spirit of Owen Reynolds who ended the show by talking about a how a juggler ends a show. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.


Kim Huynh, Sakari Männistö, Owen Reynolds and Kati Ylä-Hokkala

Joe Bishop, Erin O'Toole, Kate Byrne and Kieran Stoneley

Charlotte Maclet, Gaëlle-Anne Michel, Elitsa Bogdanova, Arthur Boutiller, Siret Lust

Director: Sean Gandini
Choreography: Ludovic Ondiviela
Music: Nimrod Borenstein

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