Thursday, 13 August 2015

Chapter 99: Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face

Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face at Jacksons Lane

I had this summer all planned out. It was going to be CHILLED. Prophetic given the weather maybe, but that's not what I had in mind. I would try to stay circus fit of course, keep some balance on the tightwire, maybe try my hand on the monkey bars with the kids, and then simply lie back on the grass  with them and watch the clouds roll by. Ha! Instead this circus journey intervened, and carried me to the headquarters of Channel 4 with Circus Girls (click here), over to Jacksons Lane for the first in the Transmission series (click here)and across to Stratford to watch NoFit State (click here) to kick off the festival weekend of performances and workshops. And now it seems I'm off to the Edinburgh Fringe next week. I am truly grateful, if slightly exasperated by the speed of it all. Well, you can't fight momentum, can you? Unless, that is, you are juggler Jon Udry, who Punches Gravity in the Face. 

Jon Udry Punches Gravity in the Face was part of the Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane in Highgate, taking us through his life, and the juggling that entails, with charm, frankness and laughs that have certainly changed the way I looked at the craft. Jon often works solo, on occasion with Gandini Juggling, and is one third of the Circus Geeks (click here). I had seen a pitch for this current show at Canvas (click here) on the same day as Beta Testing back in April. Then, as now, I enjoyed the humour as much as the spectacle, and the rapport Jon establishes with the audience, that is vital to keep us engaged through what is essentially an hour's monologue, with tricks. That Jon will speak for himself straight-up without any razzmatazz is made clear from the start, as he strips off his dapper showman's suit to change into t-shirt and jeans. He then strips away further the risk factor behind certain juggling acts and addresses the dreaded "drop". Take away the illusion of danger when tossing around knives, chainsaws or fire, and what are you left with? The naked art of juggling. And it's brilliant. There are balls, hoops and plain clubs (no flashing lights!), obviously, also tea-bags in a smashing routine, and a receptacle of water thrown into circulation that was simply a glass act. I was again drawn to the manipulation of white helium balloons, that for me underscored the pure beauty of the act, while making a wicked point about the risk involved in defying gravity. But if you expect Jon to burst into song about it, with jazz hands, don't hold your breath. There is music, though, and Jon asks for someone's iPod at one point to improvise juggling to random tracks, moving outside the box of circus music. Sitting in the line of fire, I firmly avoided all eye contact - I reveal enough in this blog! - and was grateful to the volunteer who delivered a cracking score, that segued adroitly into the rock star finale, when Jon let rip.

I really enjoyed  autobiographical anecdotes that took us through Cornish childhood of Jon Udry, introducing us to the Great Alfonse, and to the perils of a performer's life. The tedium and loneliness of life on the road balanced with the sheer joy of basically being paid to do what you love. It made me feel braver about this blog, funnily enough. So drawn in, I was gutted on his behalf to hear the twist that this could be his last show. Is it? Find out for yourself when he's next in town...

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