The 2016 IJA Convention Public Show- “Cascade of Stars” was an international mixture of skill and comedy. Artists from Chile, Ukraine, Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Austria, and all across the US of A participated.
The comedic hosts, The KamiKaze Fireflies kept the action rolling with their hilarious shtick between acts. Rob Williams, formerly of The Flaming Idiots (with John O’Conner and Kevin Hunt) had competed in the IJA team championships event in 1991 in St. Louis. Casey Martin joined him after the Flaming Idiots disbanded in 2004. Her talent for physical comedy, made them a natural match. They met at a Renaissance Festival where they were both performing and decided to team up. They received a standing ovation on America’s Got Talent and have worked internationally at festivals and on cruises. Their next gig is the Hans Christian Anderson Festival in Denmark later this summer, and they are working towards perfecting their own 75 minute stage show. Being based In LA, they are also looking towards creating television specials in the not-too-distant future.
Casey really bends over backwards to entertain the crowd, and while she is bent over backwards a volunteer from the audience steps gingerly on her pelvis and juggles five clubs. The “random” volunteer in this case was Dominik Harant, a member of the Austrian team Jonglissimo, who won the Gold Medal in the team competition.
After this surprising opening stunt, the first of 9 acts begins. Peter Irish enters in a red and orange jump suit and shows what he can do with bean bags, using his hands and feet. Originally from Virginia and now residing in Boulder, Colorado Peter was inspired by Dan Holzman to become a full-time performer. Peter took his skill as a hacky-sac champ, and combined it with toss juggling to create a terrific act. He received the Boulder Circus Arts Award. This was his third IJA convention. He has performed in numerous street and busker festivals around the country as well as Prague, Asia and Japan. In 2005 Peter received a call from Samoan Circus and accepted an offer to travel to the South Pacific to join them for a season.
He has 45 minutes of material and performed 6 minutes in the Cascade of Stars show. He begins with juggling three balls and kicking a forth back and forth from foot to foot. He juggles with numerous patterns and stalls, and adds another bean bag which goes from his feet, up to his hands, and back down. He does ‘two in one foot’ while juggling three and even juggles a cascade with three with only his feet. He finishes with five with his hands and three with his feet at the same time.
The KamiKazi Fireflies return, this time to show one of their many Guinness world records. Rob threatens not to make a baloney sandwich with his feet unless an audience member agrees to eat it or at least take a bite. His record is the fastest baloney sandwich with his feet, but for the giggly Emily he takes his time to do it right. He unwraps the cheese, chooses the pickles, spreads the mayo, and cuts the tasty morsel diagonally, all with his dexterous toes. Emily takes a bite and smiles, for who-knows-what reason.
Next up, The Institute of Jugglology, Ellen Winters and Galen Harp. They’ve been at it since 2005 and won the IJA team championship in 2014.
Their rather somber act entitled “Needs” consisted of passing mixed objects- balls, clubs, and rings. They also pass Russian sand-filled balls, with the distinction of not sealing the balls after they are filled with sand, so the sand goes flying everywhere. Next, Russian sand clubs, unsealed, with the sand going everywhere. Finally sand rings – you know the drill. The colorful sand lands mostly on the drop-cloth but also on a rectangular canvas. At the end of the final passing sequence the canvass is lifted to reveal the sand has landed and created a pattern that can, with a little imagination, be said to resemble an abstract painting. With a flick of the wrist the pattern loses its structural integrity and collapse, leaving the canvas white again. The lights go down and the viewer has just a couple of seconds to reflect. Juggling is like a sand castle. Enjoy it now while it lasts. It’s gone in a moment. Like life. Enjoy the moment while you can.
Rob and Casey are back for more, like a familiar friend, while the stage crew cleans up after the last act and prepares for the next. “And now,” Rob announces, “A dinosaur chasing a hot dog!” It sounds pretty funny, but when he dons a big hot dog suit and suddenly a preposterous t-rex enters from the wings and starts chasing him up and down the aisles, with goofy music and scary sound effects, it is hilarious. Casey makes a fine dinosaur indeed.
Next up, Charchaso!
Erin Stephens and Steve Wiswell did a sterling job of directing the show and one of Erin’s many areas of expertise is recruiting talent from beyond domestic borders. Her connections in South America brought her in contact with Charchaso from Chile. His act consists of a dark stage, black-light, and florescent props and costume. He juggles 3, 5, and 6 balls in numerous patterns, with site-swaps and pirouettes. His routine was very solid; the high throws with the glowing props was extremely effective.
Charchaso, who is self-trained, is a full-time busker, or at least a busker who doesn’t punch a time clock. He works until he has enough for that day, then takes it easy. Why work for “the Man” when you can make your own hours and take vacations whenever you want – which is most of the time! In South America, many buskers, are true ‘street’ performers. They perform in the actual street. When the traffic light turns red they run up to the waiting cars, do a 30 second show (or whatever that particular traffic light will allow), and spend the last several seconds before the light changes to pass the hat to the captive cars. This has developed in South America and is accepted and encouraged. The drivers give the performers change, and after a few hours of these quick shows the take adds up. Many of the artists are on a high-level of skill and it shows. In the hat.
The awards portion of the show followed with gold medalist Jon Wee (of the Passing Zone) presenting the People’s Choice Award to Jeff Marsh who had a distinctive act at Renegade the night before with hat, ball and mouth-stick. Taylor Glen and gold medalist Cindy Marvell then presented the Flamingo Award to 13-year-old Aminita Glover.
Tuey Wilson was on next. Wilson, from Minnesota, won a bronze metal at the IJA convention in 1991. On the Renegade stage he did a humorous act on free-standing ladder. But for the public show he performed the unique four-ball roll over. He gets four balls spinning at once, one on each index finger, one on a mouth-stick, and one on a stick on a head-band, and sets himself down on the stage and rolls over 360 degrees. I’ve seen this done with three (one on each finger and a mouth-stick) but never with four. Apparently he’s the only one doing it, or has ever done it. Astonishing.
Next up, Rody Olivares from Chile. Erin Stephens recruited Rody after he won a prize at the IRC (IJA Regional Competition). Rody performed with 1, 2, and 3 diabolos. He threw impeccably timed genocides with one diabolo at Excalibur, and combined many tricks for an extended 3 diabolo routine including shower to shuffle and back, and stalls.
Question: when is the finish in the middle? When the next performer is Finnish. Nelli Kujansivu is from Finland but trained in Sweden. The antipodist takes her place on the back-rest and throws 3, 4, and 5 rhythmic gymnast balls with her hands and feet. She tosses the balls up to her feet, catches them there and drops or rolls them back to her hands. She also stops, braids her long hair in the middle of the routine for some some reason, and then continues to juggle. Perhaps she arrived late to the theater. Luckily her nails were clipped and painted before she arrived. The last time I saw an antipodist act was a Chinese woman furiously spinning a barrel on each foot, then a table twirling in three directions, then two umbrellas on her feet while spinning rugs on both hands and a mouth-stick. Ok, you don’t have to do that, but let’s keep it moving a little, please.
Rob and Casey, the KamiKaze crazies return and do some audience participation stunts including getting the entire theater to act like pirates, and then cracking whips at targets, one of which is dangerously close to Casey’s home town.
Braulio Lopez is the next act. He is from Mexico and was seen in the gym throughout the festival practicing with hats and helping anyone learn who cared to step up to him. But no one was prepared for his Ed Sullivan routine with snappy music and costume and tossing up to five hats first like rings (spinning sideways) then like clubs (with single or double flips) and caught in his hands, feet, or on his head. For his finale he flashed 6. No drops.
Braulio is from Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast and works professionally, freelance, at the numerous resorts there. He also does street theater both, lengthy circle shows and quick traffic-light shows. He won the IRC in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2015. He wants to visit Las Vegas in the near future and look for work there, and he is developing a team act with his senorita for festivals and variety theater.
Allan Howard then presented two awards. First, the Historical Achievement award to El Gran Picaso who had a long and illustrious career including a time with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. Next, the Award of Excellence to Picaso’s son, Picaso Jr.
They were not there to accept the awards in person but prepared a film which showed El Gran Picaso thanking the IJA for the award from their home in Spain, while Picaso Jr. kept four ping pong balls bouncing in the air with one paddle.
Next up, Aleksandra Savina, from Zaporozhye, Ukraine. 27-year-old Aleksandra trained for 3 years at the Kiev Circus school at the same time as her friend and colleague Alexander Koblikoff, and under the tutelage of Yuri Pozolnyakov (who also trained Koblikoff). She won several jury prizes at the youth circus festival in Paris. She has performed in Europe, Turkey, Russian, Ukraine, and at the EJC Gala show in Poland, 2012. This is her first time in the USA.
She begins with three hula hoops and rolls them around the stage, over her shoulders in both directions (front to back, and back to front), and tosses them with her feet. She spins one on one leg while rolling three over her body Bob Bramson style. She works with up to seven hoops, rolling them around the stage in various patterns, keeping them from colliding, and watching them gather themselves up into her waiting hand.
She is thoroughly enjoying her American working vacation and is thrilled with the positive reception she has been getting. She enjoys Starbucks here and in Europe. There is none in Ukraine. She enjoys American and British pop music, especially those from the 80s, such as Duran Duran, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, but she also loves the Rolling Stones and Beyonce. She found her trip to Washington DC memorable and moving, and she says the her favorite airport is the one in Denver.
But she misses her husband in Ukraine and their own coffee shop and is ready for the long trip home.
Rob and Casey return to announce the last act but first Casey has one more little stunt. Casey Martin had an illustrious solo career before she met Rob, performed in New Zealand and Australia, and has several Guinness records of her own including most flaming hula hoops at once (four hoops w/four wicks each for a total of 16 flames) and breaking the most eggs with her head while running in a back bend.
For her last stunt she asks if you (the audience) are ready to see her crowdsurf?! The crowd assures her they are and obey when she tells everyone to stand up but they don’t really expect her to jump into the audience which is exactly what she does and everyone manages to keep her up overhead and tossed from hand to hand around the entire orchestra section of the audience in a huge sweeping circle, up and back to the stage. Rob all the while is frantically panicking and also directing traffic to the loud punk music and somehow it not only works, but gets everybody’s juices flowing.
Finally Emil Dahl takes the stage. And while that was a tough act to follow, Emil is up to it. Dahl, a native of Sweden, presents his piece, “Magnet Opus.” He will be a featured performer at the 2016 EJC public show in the Netherlands. He trained in Copenhagen, Denmark at the AFUK circus school. He has a BA from DOCH, the Stockholm University of Dance and Circus. He performs “Magnet Opus” regularly in European variety theaters.
His unique clubs were created from his specifications by Swedish prop maker and innovator, Ameron Rosvall. He juggles clubs with magnets at both ends, which allows for all sorts of end-to-end sticking effects. There are metal poles around the stage which he hangs the clubs on, horizontally and vertically, and spins them around. The magnets give the clubs another dimension entirely, which means you not only never know what he will do next, but when he does it, is certainly something you’ve never seen before. The moves are precise and his look is intense and highly focused, but when he executed a difficult move he breaks into a winning smile and a natural applause point. The poles are then arranged into a triangle and the clubs slide along them where he scoops them up, jumps through the triangle and juggles four, grabs the remaining club off the last pole and juggles five. It was truly astonishing and the perfect balance between the artistic, creative, and skilled. Thunderous applause.
As Rob and Casey pull everyone back on stage for a final standing ovation, it occurs to many of the audience members, just how unique this show was. If a local resident, or a happenstance tourist strolled by and bought a ticket on a whim and saw the show, they would surely think, “this must be a long-running show that took years to perfect and will continue on what must be a highly successful tour.” And yet almost all of the performers never knew each other before this week, had not rehearsed together even once, and will never perform this exact show again ever. And even if it would occur to anyone to try and recreate this show or continue its run in this theater while trying to book other theaters, it would be impossible, as each performer is rushing out the next day to his or her other long-standing obligations and commitments to the four corners of the earth. It will never be performed again. The show was excellent, yes. And the definition of unique.
Featured image photo by Raphael Harris. All other photos courtesy of Emory Kimbrough.