Monday, 7 December 2015

Chapter 115: Gandini Juggling presents "meta"

Photo: The Guardian (click here)

The other day I sat in a cafe, hidden away on the edge of a wood, and wrote six sides of A4 to a friend. The retired gentlemen next to me, 70 if they were a day, were entranced. Who writes letters anymore? They decided it must be a steamy, impassioned love letter. That took them back. It took me back too. I remember the first letter to make me blush, from a friend who'd moved town, describing at length her first snog. Getting to first base, what a milestone!, and the memories came flooding back the other evening as Gandini Juggling brought the terminology again into play in their latest show meta

meta had been commissioned by Jacksons Lane in honour of their 40th anniversary, and boy, did they have a lot to celebrate. This theatre up in Highgate has an incredibly diverse multi-arts programme, and is at the forefront of the contemporary circus scene. Under the artistic direction of Adrian Berry, Jacksons Lane has given space to companies, both in the UK and abroad, to develop works in progress that are exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring to watch. Who better to deliver that message than Gandini Juggling, in their element constructing and deconstructing patterns of expectations. 

meta was a vibrant and joyous celebration of the messiness and beauty of the human condition, our love, our brokenness, and finding humour in confusion. Taking its cue from 4x4 (see post on Ephemeral Architectures - click here), with Chris Patfield picking up where Owen Reynolds left off, (a)musing on ways to begin a show, there was a dialogue set in motion between juggling and ballet that captured the grace of both disciplines, while pushing boundaries in all directions. Furniture was broken up and smashed with explosive menace, while Lynn Scott's definition of "bases" and the stages in sexual relations was delivered with a halting, upset vulnerability in which I read a sense of loss and nostalgia for an age of innocence. This was offset by surreal moments, the appearance of a shamanic figure at one point, a goat's mask at another, which had all the tomfoolery of a morris dance, with an edge of The Wicker Man. 

The reference to baseball was taken up again in a reworking of the classic Abbott and Costello sketch "Who's on first?" (click here). The funny thing is, that reference completely passed me by the first time round, when I saw that extract in rehearsal. I just didn't get it. The humour, I mean. I was drawn to the patterns of repetition, but going round in circles made me think more of Beckett than slapstick. This time round I had been at the clowning workshop (see previous chapter), spending time in the pub afterwards chatting away, and recalling the likes of Lucille Ball and Abbott and Costello, who were very much part of my television landscape growing up. Now, I felt a giant, cartoon lightbulb flick on over my head. Doh! Of course! With that sense of illumination I enjoyed the co-ordination of repartee and ripostes of movement even more. What had struck me before as fascinating, now slapped me in the face with its genius. And they were very funny, the dancers and the jugglers alike. I enjoyed watching the dancers engaging in the choreography of juggling, and loved the joyful, spectacular sequence set to Bach's Brandenberg Concerto #2, the fluidity of a diagonal line of jugglers circulating clubs, and the breath-taking moments when dancers slipped through the interstices in the patterns. 

Nudity was, as promised, on offer. A tongue in cheek response to the presumption that sex sells, and there is plenty of it around in the circus world. As one female juggler was laid out on a table, while another stood over her, in clinical fashion, holding a conical flask full of dark liquid, I have to admit my heart sank. The table now appeared like a slab in a morgue. What were we in for now?! Pig's blood? Bestiality?? Necrophilia??? Then treacle was poured... very slowly... there was something about its gloopy consistency that was rather hypnotising to watch, as it slowly changed shape over the contours of her body. It reminded me of the installation of oil flooding a floor of a room in the Saatchi gallery, a play on light, colour and perspective. Point made, I thought it was a slick way to end the show, Gandini Juggling rocking it once again as Agent Provocateur.

Note: for link to video report by London Live on Gandini Juggling at Jacksons Lane click here (

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