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Chocfest 2017 – The York Juggling Convention Review (UK)

The 22nd annual juggling convention held in the city of York took place on Saturday 28th January. Here follows my recount of the day.

Travel and Breakfast

We tried to revive the Chocfest tradition of going to the A64 Red Bus Café on the way to the convention and eating a deliciously unhealthy breakfast in the freezing cold on the top deck of the bus. We even checked the night before that it would be open (website said 07:00, no problems there). We got up early, packed all our juggling stuff in the car and set out without breakfast. Disappointingly, and now not for the first time, the Café was closed when we arrived at 09:00 and secured with padlocks, no sign of anyone around.

We were very disappointed (and hungry) so we did what we did last time when the same thing happened and drove to the Beefeater pub which is within a 10 minute walk of the convention site in Nether Poppleton on the York ring road. We resented paying real money for breakfast, but the food was very nice and there was a good selection. The staff on the whole seemed fairly miserable and inattentive despite both me and Jenni attempting to lighten their day with various amusing little jokes and quips. Although nobody cracked a smile we were all sure that we had been a ray of sunshine on their otherwise dull day.

The Convention

Jenni and I arriving at the venue.

Fed and watered, and a little later than planned, Jenni, Mark and myself arrived at the Manor Academy. The passes were cards from the game ‘Magic, The Gathering’ and I could have spent much longer choosing my pass but I didn’t know the game (and we were holding everyone up) so I elected for a simple ’Lightform’ card on the basis of it having an interesting picture and a nice blue wool cord; both things which I appreciate.

We headed straight to the main hall, a route which brought us through the atrium. The atrium is a large light open area where free tea and coffee is available, there are lots of tables and so this is where all the serious board gamers congregate for the majority of the convention. Lazy Juggler were just setting up their stand so I returned Ron’s sock and we moved on towards the hall.

It was fairly quiet when we arrived but by the time we got settled and started juggling it was filling up nicely. I started some headbounce practice but wasn’t really feeling it so I warmed up with some club juggling instead. Stopped and chatted to a few folks as they arrived, and received a big bundle of The Catch magazines from Mike to pass on to Jamie. Suddenly it was 12:00 and time for my club juggling workshop.

The workshop was promoted under a very broad and far reaching title of ‘club tricks’ so I waited to see who turned up and what they wanted/expected to learn. A large group appeared who had no particular expectations so I ran an exposure workshop (calm down!) where we tried to fit in as many different or interesting tricks as possible. The aim was not to 100% learn any trick but to try to expose the group to tricks they hadn’t tried or seen before and to inspire them to keep trying new club tricks. I think it worked, I definitely think that people had fun and that is always my main aim, success!

There was a good selection of varied workshops on offer. I would have liked to have gone to Dave Kelly’s ‘New and mixed props’ workshop but was involved in some passing at that point.

I ate a banana and a pecan and peanut bar.

The Atrium which played host to tea drinking and board gaming as well as the chocolate cake eating frenzy.

Jenni and I returned to the Lazy Juggler stand and thought that there were more people in the atrium playing games and drinking tea than there were in the main juggling hall actually juggling. Tut tut. We bought a new game and took it back to the hall where it remained sealed until we would play it on Sunday after the convention.

I had a ring passing date with Mark and Phil so I did some solo ring juggling which was acceptable. We then passed 14, 15, 16 and 18 rings with different levels of success. It was good fun, I really enjoyed it.

The Games

Games time. I missed 3 ball Simon Says but enjoyed watching the hooping gladiators. Club balance endurance was followed by club balance endurance with diabolo in a box taking place over the top of the balances. This was fine. I successfully survived the first onslaught and watched the diabolos soar through my peripheral vision. During the second wave a diabolo, complete with handsticks and accompanied by a small scream, appeared about 6 inches from my face so I dived out at that point. Never had that before, it was very memorable and I suspect I will wake in the night screaming for a few weeks to come. The spaghetti game was announced and I confided to Josh that I had failed to bring my own spaghetti. Josh made a hilarious joke about being Spaghettful, which earned him a high five.

Me and Brook did long distance passing (despite him having an injury which meant he had to pass one handed). I think we got the furthest at one point, although it doesn’t count when you are flying backwards over part of the crowd and ending up in a heap on the floor.

The Club Balance Endurance before the addition of diabolo in a box and my near death experience.

5 ball endurance happened. I made it through to the final 3 but I think two of us dropped at about the same time, although I didn’t see what happened. Turned into a gladiators match between Dan Wood and I and then a ‘trick off’ which Dan easily took, no shame for me there. Speaking to people afterwards we think that actually Dan won cleanly, although he dropped soon after me, so there was need for the gladiators or ‘trick off’. 3 club gladiators took place which was the usual chaos.

The games were well run and contained a lot of the classic hallmark convention games.

 

The Combat Tournament

This led nicely into the combat tournament. 12 players took part including the injured Brook. After some discussion between all the players we decided that playing one-handed with the other arm stuffed up the player’s T-shirt whilst holding the third club didn’t offer any unfair advantages to Brook so he was fine to take part. There was a black eye for Mark and an injured thumb for Ieuan, some really impressive and unlucky points. I secured my first win of 2017 after a very hard fought match against Dan. Cameron secured third place against Callum. Thank you to everyone who came and took part, it was a very good tournament.

The results will be on the Fight Night Website soon, check the link: http://fightnightcombat.com/tournament-Chocfest-2017.html

After the tournament we had a bit of time to fill before going for food so Mark and I did some 10 club two count closely followed by some 15 club line with Cameron.

Evening Food

Jenni and Mark W were getting restless at this point so we packed the car and cleared out to get some food at the Beefeater restaurant (again); we didn’t fancy fish and chips. Next year I will look in advance to see if there are any other food possibilities nearby. The restaurant was full to the brim of jugglers, but not as bad as the fish and chip shop apparently. We were worried that we might miss the start of the show but the food finally arrived, we ate really fast, drove at breakneck speed back to the venue and then stood in the queue for 15 minutes waiting to be let into the show venue.

Quick food review, Jenni and Mark both had the smothered chicken which was ok. The chicken breast was a little flat and they had used plastic cheese rather than fresh cut, good portion size. I had the beef chilli which was actually incredibly good considering it was a chain pub. Tasted very homemade and it was a fair portion although still deemed rather pricey. Overall, not bad.

The Show

Gave Emily her walking boots back.

Tom Butterworth was the compere for the evening show. I have not seen Tom compere before but he was very confidant onstage, had a number of good jokes and seemed to have an idea what he wanted to do rather than making stuff up on the fly. There were a few times when I felt he let some of the audience’s energy get away but crucially he did manage to pick it up again. Good work.

There were a few sound problems during the start of the show with very crackly microphones and feedback, although this got much better as the show went on.

Arthur Hyam (BYJOTY 2014) performed his new diabolo routine. Just as an aside I think his new hairstyle looks great but I did totally fail to recognise him when I first saw him practising in the hall earlier in the day… Very smooth, very slick and very chilled out diabolo routine. I am not a huge fan of reggae and I would love to see a slightly more energetic performance but nevertheless it is a pleasure to watch. Bags of confidence, good stage presence and a top marks bow at the end.

Piers van Looy performed a very technical contact poi routine. I really like the routine and the choreography to the music (helps when you like the song) but I have seen him perform it much cleaner. It was pretty droppy towards the end although the big tricks were hit, and I enjoyed the final trick forming the bow.

Matthew Tiffany was given open season to do whatever he wanted onstage and so chose to regale us with his musical talents in the form of a couple of songs with Banjo accompaniment. He did a very nice comedy song about technology followed by a slushy song. This was followed by a 3 tier Salerno ring whilst playing a tune on the Kazoo and Banjo. His finale was a comedy song which tackled the very difficult subject of Jalapenis. The song brought a tear to many an eye and was definitely the highlight of the show for Jenni.

Next on stage was M, who performed a card manipulation routine. The premise for the routine and accompanying music track was excellent, however the execution could have been better. It got slightly repetitive and so needed either more character to lend humour to the continuously appearing cards or some more tricks to break up the action. More misdirection required and there needs to be a reason for the cane to appear. Perhaps an elderly train passenger or blind passenger could lose their stick or leave it behind? I definitely would love this routine to develop and go further, would really like to see it polished up and performed again!

Interval time

The results of the Chocfest Chocolate Cake Competition (CCCC, entrants get a reduced entrance fee to the convention and the chance to win prizes and eternal glory) were announced. There were 30 entries. Cakes were judged on the following criteria: Chocolatiness, Cakiness, Appearance and Judges’ Bias. Prizes were awarded and a slide show displaying some of the entries was displayed. It would be nice if the cakes being discussed and prizes awarded matched the cakes currently being displayed to the audience on the slideshow, but it seemed a bit more random this year.

After the presentations the doors were flung wide into the atrium area where all the cakes had been cut and were there for the tasting. Jenni, Mark and I followed on after the initial stampede and tried a few which were easy to get to. We were rather fond of the cupcakes (350 of them which formed an image of the Mona Lisa when arranged correctly via the multi-coloured smarties on top). Jenni even briefly conquered her underlying fear of the Mona Lisa in order to partake, high praise indeed!

Raffle

I didn’t find the raffle as fun and entertaining as I usually do. I don’t know why that was, as having 3 ever so slightly different shades pink for the tickets should have afforded plenty of amusement. I will not make a big thing about the carton of pineapple juice although I will say this: Unacceptable. Incidentally there were 2 tickets for the Leeds Juggling Convention 2017 in the raffle.

The Show – Second Half

Opened with Dave Kelly performing with a number of tennis racquets and balls and super large tennis balls. I love Dave’s routines despite them breaking the majority of rules from my performance workshop. This is simply because they are bonkers. Everyone is happy to forgive the drops (it was a dropfest) because everyone appreciates just how ridiculously hard the tricks are. Twinkle, Mark and I giggled like schoolchildren because his tricks were really hard, but the way he started the pattern each time was even harder, yet he made absolutely no fuss about the starts at all; it was almost that they were just a necessary evil to get the pattern going. I can’t describe all the tricks because they were mad but he did do a 5 ball cascade using a tennis racquet in each hand to scoop the balls. Another trick was a 3 ball cascade in each hand using two smaller racquets held in each hand (so 4 racquets, two in each hand, 3 ball scooped cascade in each hand, simultaneously, get it?).

Tom then got two ‘volunteers/victims’ out from the audience to perform the ‘eat the apple trick’ with slices of chocolate cake in place of the apple as a competition. It was quite ill thought out and disgusting.

Eddie Bacon (BYJOTY 2015) then performed a super-fast, super slick contact ball routine with nice applause points and bonkers head stalls and rolls. Contact ball has never been so fast! I really enjoyed it although there were quite a few repeated segments and we wondered if he had gone too fast and so had to repeat some moves. It was lovely to watch and Eddie has great confidence onstage as well as a great bow to finish it off.

Kathrin Pancakes was the headline act and performed her ring juggling routine. Great tricks and sequences, well-choreographed and put together. Most of the floor work was not visible for anyone not on the first 3 rows due to the racked seating, which was shame as the stage is fairly deep at York. It was quite droppy near the start but picked up and finished with a clean 6 rings at the end. Good routine and a good close for the show.

All the acts were brought on stage again for the final bows, which were a bit of a shambles. Tom even announced “we didn’t rehearse this bit!” Lost a few points there. Overall, though, it was a good show.

We said our goodbyes and stood about nattering for a time before piling into the car and heading back to Leeds.

Thank you ever so much to the organising team for putting together another fantastic event, I had a really great time and look forward to coming again next year for Chocfest 23!

Check the website for future years information: http://www.chocfest.net/

Cheers, Jon

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I am a juggler based in the UK. I enjoy attending juggling conventions and tend to write about them afterwards. Enjoy!

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