The International Jugglers’ Association lived up to its name at its 69th festival with only one of the six medal winners at the teams and individuals stage championships being from the United States.
Japanese Hiroki Kamei of Nagoya, Japan got the individual gold with a spectacular diabolo performance of moves never before seen on an IJA stage. At several points he had one diabolo vertical and another horizontal on the same string, moves that got him a standing ovation. (Gold medal winners shared record prize purses of $10,000 for individuals and $10,000 for teams.)
Jorden Moir of Ontario came second, moving balls from hands to knees to feet, bringing seven into the mix.
Scott Sorensen of Austin, Texas was third with a highly technical routine that involved large numbers of balls, rings and clubs. Scott has collected 16 IJA numbers gold medals in the course of his 30-year juggling career.
Team Jonglissimo (from Linz, Austria), Daniel Ledel, Dominik Harant and Manuel Mitasch, filled the grand stage of the Plaza Theater with almost flawless club passing. In various combinations, they have won IJA gold medals in 2005, 2007 and 2013. (Dominik and Manuel set an IJA and world club passing record in the numbers juggling competition with 98 catches of 14 rings.)
The Totchees (Tetsuya and Ayaka Tochikubo) of Nagoya, Japan came second with diabolo passing, while Aki and Takeru (Ueno and Hirano, respectively) of Yokohama came third with devil stick passing, including four sticks at once and passing vertically from seated to standing performers.
Scott Meltzer & Katrine Spang-Hanssen (aka “Scotty & Trink”) kept the crowd wildly amused while the judges judged. They have been juggling for a combined 65+ years and do everything from double-entendre balloon animals to jump-over-the-shoulders knife takeaways, with Scott doing the jumping.
The El Paso venue was perfect, in that theater, convention center, Tricky Falls bar (for Renegade shows), and most hotels were all a few minutes from one another. It was advertised as a “hassle-free week,” and fest director Jim Maxwell organized exactly that, managing that organization from Austin Texas, on the opposite side of the state.
He and his board and helpers also organized a free gourmet brunch with local delicacies every morning, which allowed jugglers to fill up for the day, a high-tech gauntlet, and a fancy reception and open bar on Friday before the night of fire outside on the convention center terrace.
While the shows and events were important, most participants will remember the camaraderie of the open juggling floor. The IJA received a note from a mother of jugglers: “We just returned from our first IJA festival. I just want to let you know that I was so impressed with the welcoming, helpful environment everyone provided. My husband and I are not jugglers, but we watched. It was so amazing to see so many adults give up their own juggling time to help my boys. People were always giving them tips and were willing to help them and work with them. My boys were also able to perform in the Youth Showcase. This greatly helped their confidence. Thank you all so much for such a wonderful experience!!!”
The festival started Monday July 25th with a day of open juggling and high-jinx in the convention center, growing more formal with 10 acts of the Welcome Show Tuesday night, well run by veteran IJA MC Dan Holzman. Outstanding were the pole routine by self-described nerdy clown Derek McAlister; Team Rootberry, who swallowed swords and cracked whips; cyr wheel artist Asaf Mor, and hoopster, Fernanda Sumano, who did her complex moves to a wild Latin beat. Fernanda won the first ever Gold Medal for the IJA Regional Competition – Mexico, in 2011!
Eighteen-year-old Zak McAlister (no relation to Derek) from Temple, Texas also performed in the Welcome Show, after winning prizes in the X-juggling Competition in three rings and 4-5 balls. He has turned rings into a combination of toss, flow and contact juggling.
“I was the only one in my fifth grade who could not juggle. My father, who could do a 3-ball cascade, taught me to juggle and I soon got better than everyone else,” Zak said in an interview.
In the middle of the proceedings, Dan announced an award for Scott Seltzer, editor of the IJA’s own eJuggle.
Bekah Smith, who has won the IJA’s Excellence in Education Award along with her husband, Warren Hammond, presided over a raucous Youth showcase and Juniors Stage Championships on Wednesday night, at one point unicycling around the stage with a young audience member atop her shoulders as the judges reckoned scores.
A couple of dozen youths aged 7 to 18 were showcased, including the Saint Ignatius High School Circus Company. Young people introduced the performing youths. Amanita Glover, 11, of Las Cruces, NW, did a very mature and sophisticated hoops routine. Michael Yoon, 12, on San Antonio, did a bit that ended with his juggling two balls while solving a Rubik cube one-handed.
Four junior competitors offered a high level of competition. Jonah Botvinick-Greenhouse, 16, won gold with polished club routines that began and ended with a cello solo. Christopher Haaser, 15, came second, long an IJA stalwart who practices in a barn outside his mountain home in rural Utah. Bennett Santora, 12, came third, kicking up five balls from one foot into a juggle and catching balls in his hat.
The Games of the IJA were held in the center’s atrium below a large glass dome that brought in the sunlight. Dominik and Manuel were the two left standing after the five-club endurance contest, so they turned to each other and passed 10 clubs for awhile, their eventual drop meaning a tie finish.
Workshops ranged from the predictable – balls, clubs, poi and hats – except the hat workshop was run by Braulio Ernesto Lopez Ramirez, who won the Gold Medal of the 4th IJA Regional Competition in 2015 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Craig Quat led workshops of radical new ways to teach juggling, including to people with no arms and limited motor skills, as well as radical new way to define juggling.
International Swedish juggler Emil Dahl gave a special workshop on how to develop an act, and Ukrainian hoopster Aleksandra Savina, who ran away to circus school in Kiev, gave a special workshop in hoop juggling and manipulation. Hoops were big at the festival this year, and hoop combat was added to the games.
When it comes to writing about juggling: you had to be there! So be there next year when the 70th IJA festival will be held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, July 10-16 (with the 71st in Springfield, Massachusetts, July 16-22, 2018).