Spring by Gandini Juggling arrived in Montreal midsummer (July 3-8) to be part of the Montréal Complètement Cirque Festival, filling up the large stage of TOHU with color and motion. Featuring nine performers, these juggling dancers and dancing jugglers, move around the stage, manipulating balls and clubs, interlocking their patterns and movements, and creating hypnotic shadows and flashes of color. Occasionally, one performer comes to the front to tell us something useful about the process—once, there is even a cheer about juggling and dance being perfect for each other, as if trying to dispel the odd couple myth behind their union.
Color plays a big role in this show, just as it does in the actual season of spring. Though the costumes are a drab gray, they allow your focus to switch from the artist to the art in the air– or the movement of the dance bodies rather than the characters within them. Notably, the cast is made up by a majority of women, and the brief interchanges between performers as well as the movement quality somehow reflects the energy and embodiment of the female performers who often dominate the stage. Dominik Harant, Erin O’Toole, Kati Ylä-Hokkala, Kim Huynh, Liza van Brakel, Tia Hockey, Tristan Curty, Wes Peden, and Yu-Hsien Wu are the cast of Spring, a talented ensemble that flits on and off the stage in a dazzling display of technical prowess and grace. Spring could be called a mash-up of Gandini’s juggling and choreographer Alexander Whitley’s dance (with music by the London based composer Gabriel Prokofiev and lighting design by Guy Hoare) but the combined influences of these creators invents a whole, rather than a simple portmanteau of art forms as so often occurs in the circus world.
As a result, Sean Gandini has done something extraordinary for juggling, he has elevated it from a vertical venture to a 360 degree 3-D impetus of fractal motion, through the multidisciplinary inclusion of dance. He hasn’t accomplished this overnight. It has taken years of exploring his signature style and experimenting with the classical forms of dance and in what ratio those forms might be wedded with juggling. In Spring, he has caught the right ratio, the right cast and choreographer, and suddenly the show is not about anything but transcendence and the beauty of flow state.
Spring’s jugglers work with balls and rings, keeping the aesthetic clean and simple. The pastel colors of the rings as they are tossed and flipped, changing from white to pastel shades, echo the color of flowers–with the motion resonating on the white backdrop behind them as light and shadows. These rhythms and flashes of light and color imply the quixotic nature of time and seasons—creating the time-lapse sensation of flowers blooming and fading. The cast occasionally calls out the colors and order of their appearance in a metronomic rhythm—proving that they themselves are merely the instruments that facilitate this bloom.
The show has dislodged itself from the need for narrative and delves instead in to the abstract.
Gabriel Prokofiev’s score does for music what Gandini has done for juggling. He blends contemporary methods of DJ with classical construction, and the result is often inspiring. Although the syncopation of his digital sound often fits the abstract nature of Spring, sometimes his score is a distraction, with the electronic values verging on the edge of elevator music or so diffuse as to not fit the size of the scene.
Apart from the themes of season and color, the show has dislodged itself from the need for narrative and delves instead in to the abstract. By focusing us instead on how seamlessly dance can meld with juggling, it provides a flash of something brilliant, like that moment when jazz becomes unhinged and turns in to brilliant flares of free jazz. This is what it is like to watch Wes Peden emerge from the metronomic precision of the group flow and to suddenly riff on his own brilliant internal rhythms. Occasionally, the dance sequences even capture some of the joie de vivre of old musicals like West Side Story or American in Paris.
Like much of circus and juggling these days, the action is about the process itself, of form over function, but where Spring thrills is in sharing how the mathematical tempo of juggling mingles with the heartbeat of dance, and when these motions become something beyond the sum of their parts it is as electrifying and disorienting as seeing a robot or puppet come to life—suddenly causing you to question reality and to reassess your definition of beauty.
Feature photo courtesy of Gandini Juggling. Photo credit: Tom Bowles