Chichester: the fascination of juggling

So what is it that draws us to jugglers, that makes us watch them so intently?
Gandini Juggling: 4X4 Ephemeral Architectures. Photography by ASHGandini Juggling: 4X4 Ephemeral Architectures. Photography by ASH
Gandini Juggling: 4X4 Ephemeral Architectures. Photography by ASH

Sean Gandini concedes there is a little frisson, the feeling that if we watch long enough they will drop something. But much more importantly, the attraction lies in the patterns the jugglers make in the air – particular kinds of patterns.These aren’t the patterns that a painter or an architect will make; these are patterns which disappear without trace straightaway. Hence the name of the show Sean’s Gandini Juggling brings to Chichester Festival Theatre on January 13 at 8pm: 4X4 Ephemeral Architectures.

Underlining that juggling shares its ephemeral nature with dance, the show traces pathways in space as four jugglers and four ballet dancers share a stage for the first time in a mix of circus and theatre.

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“The company is 25 years old,” Sean says. “I used to do a show in Covent Garden a long time ago, and I always felt that juggling had potential for something else. My wife had just retired from rhythmic gymnastics, and we both thought it would be interesting to do something that combined juggling with dance. Juggling had always been thought of as something that was part of circus or variety, and the subtext was always ‘Look how clever this person is!’ The juggling would get harder and harder and would then reach a crescendo. But juggling was developing a new language and creating new patterns, and we felt there was potential to do a lot more with it. We wanted to try to create something that was an hour-long piece and get away from the usual seven-minute thing. Seven minutes is the usual, the build-up, getting more and more difficult and then the crescendo. But we wanted to expand that and to work with other vocabularies. Circus and vaudeville were always that seven minutes. Magic turns tend to be seven minutes. But we felt there was potential for more, and we were wanting to move away from that. You can work within one discipline in the circus, whether it is trapeze or juggling, and ours was juggling.”

The attraction is that it is effectively visual music, Sean says: “It is all about patterns moving in space, and I think human beings are attracted to geometries whether geometries in music or painting. There is something very satisfying when we are looking at organised patterns.

“There can be the subtext of ‘Oh, they might drop it’, but if you are watching musicians, you are not watching them and waiting for them to play the wrong note. What keeps you listening is the music, and I think there is also something inherent in the magic of juggling. And we have tried to make that into a full show.

“The show in Chichester is looking at classical ballet. When we did our previous piece, I bumped into an old friend who was running a ballet programme, and I said it would be interesting to do something with classical ballet. We spent a year researching how we might put the two things together.”

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