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The 16th British Juggling Convention, Brighton
10-Apr-2003 to 13-Apr-2003
From TWJC Kevin, Dave A, Cora, Bob, Bryn, Andrew, Dave K, Dave L, Catherine, Helen, Simon, Laura, Kim, Izzy, Tasj & myself all made the mammoth trek to the South coast for this year's national festival. Most of us arrived at the site at the University of Sussex at around 10am & wandered down to register & picked up our yellow bottle opener passes.
For me a convention is only as good as the food that is served there & in terms of food Brighton was the best convention I have been to. Despite having the 'confirmed' caterer pull out at short notice we were still provided with a wide range of well cooked meals served from 8am to a fantastic 2am! It tasted great, the portions were more than ample (I was almost beaten by my first meal I had there) & although I can understand that some people could complain about the price value for money was excellent. They were very accommodating too, if you didn't want a full meal you just had to ask for what you wanted & they sorted out the price accordingly. The bar was fantastic too - £2 a pint (which for the South is almost a miracle) until 1am.
Right next to the kitchen area in the bar tent was a mini arcade with bar football, a pinball machine, Sega Rally & Dancing Stage Euromix 2. The dancing stage was a real highlight, Dave K talked me into giving it a go ("wanna go?", "yep!") & showed me what to do. You have to stand in the centre of a raised stage facing a large screen, surrounding your feet at each point of the compass are 4 pressure pads with arrows pointing away from you. After selecting a track & a difficulty level the music starts playing & a series of arrows start to scroll up the screen, when they reach the top you have to step on the corresponding pressure pad. If you step on the wrong pad or miss the timing you lose a portion of your energy bar at the top of the screen, lose all of your energy & you're out. The game is seriously fun, it does help to bounce with the rhythm of the music & the crowd will always appreciate dancing with your arms too. You get points for how many steps you complete in a row, my personal best was 9 proving I have no rhythm at all as Dave K was scoring in the 50s. All this was on the medium difficulty setting, we tried the hard setting once & I think anyone who can perform well on that setting is inhuman.
The main sports hall was large & clean, the toilet facilities were good, as were the showers which had consistently hot running water. There were even hair dryers available which made Tasj extremely excitable. Upstairs was a cafe/bar overlooking the traders & a viewing gallery which overlooked the main hall. The trader's hall was lined with traders from all over. Despite wanting a new set of everything I was very impressed with limiting myself to just buying a lovely new nimbus 2 unicycle with blue anodised wheel from the nice people at Unicycle.com. The rest of TWJC also came away with several sets of balls, clubs, new devilsticks & various other toys. I don't know where it all goes though.
It was in the sports hall that I was introduced to the game of pick up sticks. For those unfamiliar with the game, a batch of giant cocktail sticks are held together then gently dropped on the ground so that they form a random pile. Players then take it in turns to remove sticks from the pile without disturbing any of the other sticks. The winner is not necessarily the one who collects the most sticks because differently decorated sticks score different numbers of points. It is much harder than it sounds especially for those of us without a steady hand. The game was great fun as there is always the argument over whether a stick was disturbed or not, I liked the sneaky tactic of throwing your stick on top of the pile at the end of your turn to make life difficult for the next player. After totting up the scores I came last with a quite respectable 24 points.
One wall of the main juggling hall supported the largest workshop timetable ever seen which was kept well up to date with changes (complaints from BJC2002, Whitstable obviously well acknowledged). The sheer number & range of workshops was amazing. The workshops were mostly held in squash courts in the same building as the main hall. I managed to catch most of Robin Gunney's 3 ball workshop but by the time I got there (I may or may not have fallen asleep beforehand) the court was full to bursting point so I perched myself outside & listened. He taught a lot of interesting things about transitions between tricks. I also caught the end of the talk on risk assessment which Kevin & Dave A attended, this must have been the most organised workshop in history: overhead projector slides, handouts, questionnaires - the works. Many of us also attended one of Barbara Lewis' Indian head massage workshops, which was very relaxing, informative & entertaining. I wanted to go to many more workshops but it really was a case of there was too much to do.
The first night was great fun, Kevin reckoned I couldn't drink an entire bottle of Double Vision cider & remain standing, I failed by about a quarter of a pint, but only because Tasj took the bottle away from me. Of course I drunk a couple of pints from the bar, a shot of Chilli Vodka & some Jack Daniels in addition to the cider so I think I won the bet. We danced the night away to the sounds of Tragic Roundabout while dancing away at some point I must have twisted my ankle (if you think I Smile like a lunatic you should see me dance) as the next day I noticed it was severely swollen & heavily bruised. So much so that had I not been so well anaesthetised I might have required medical attention.
We were in the beer tent when Dave the Pyromancer came in to announce his show was about to start in his own special way, so we grabbed our booze & took up our positions. Dave set up his performance area with trays of what looked like burning rice pudding, before dancing with fire chains in his own unique style. The man is famous for his firebreathing & he didn't disappoint, especially when he firebreathed into his armpits & between a volunteer's legs!
The next night we were entertained by another pyro show this time by Edinburgh based Te Pooka. We were treated to a sneak preview of a piece put together for the Brighton Festival. The show started off with playing with silhouettes & using different lights to change the perspectives of the shadows in bemusing ways. This was followed by some dancers who lit a firestaff each on a flame cannon before doing some nice synchronous spinning, then doing some more double staff. The show also contained a lot of poi done well which I find difficult to watch emotionally. The most visual part of the show for me was the bit where four characters danced & moved around the performance area with elongated flaming fingers. It doesn't sound much in words but it just looked cool. The show finished with the Te Pooka crew being joined by fire performers from the convention swinging, spinning & juggling to the back drop a few low level pyrotechnics. It was a really good show well worth standing out in the cold for.
This year's Renegade shows featured some of the best acts I've seen in a long time. The discussions on Rec.Juggling & the note in the information booklet seemed to have made a difference as the emphasis was back where it belongs. Well done to the audience for being more appreciative than of late to.
On the first night I only remember 3 acts, some fantastic hat juggling between Andy & Sandra using up to 5 hats throwing & placing them all over each other, on their heads, between their arms, on their elbows, all at a dizzying pace. There was also some great digeridoo playing by Gordon who came on a couple of times over the festival & played some superb rhythmic sounds. Ste3void came on & rattled his shaker cups to wake most of us up & generate some interest for his workshop a little later in the festival. I'm not sure but I think there was lots of nice penguin style catches & crossed arm stuff.
One of the most memorable acts was that of Nono & his pet monkey, he worked the puppet with such class & had the audience beside themselves with laughter with his hypnotism skit. I also liked his inventive use of gaffer tape to create a few visual gags including dancing round the ring with a stick figure made up of tape stuck to his feet & hands & the roll of tape as the head. He was so good his efforts were rewarded with a gig from Haggis.
Convention favourites Haggis & Charlie are probably the most plagiarised jugglers in existence & they know it to judging by Haggis' quips of, "write them down!" Eric volunteered to help the dynamic duo for a few passing tricks, during which Haggis mucked up the start allowing Charlie to ridicule his involvement with the Gandinis. After many old favourite gags Eric was asked to do some tricks involving grabbing passes out of the air, each of which he nailed first time to steal the show. After the act the new duo is Eric & Charlie!
Speaking of Haggis I was very impressed with how he came on to help the guy who was obviously performing in the renegade tent for the first time. The act involved the audience coming up & placing a bet on how many repetitions of a trick he could do in a row. There were a few more rules but it didn't come across as well as it could have done up until Haggis stepped in to help get the point across. It was a really nice moment I thought. Most of us don't have the stage presence that comes with experience, most of us aren't able to gauge if an audience really knows what is going on either. It was really good to see someone make the renegade more accessible to an inexperienced performer. By the way it was our man Kevin who was betting with the fake money!
After compering the first night Luke Burrage performed a few other times, one appearance saw him breaking a copy of the Yellow Pages in half then trying to juggle six clubs with the resultant lack of arm strength. Luke's spot with the TV set was for me one of the best acts of the weekend & that includes the public show. The set up was simply a TV set displaying a video that was a stream of siteswap numbers & trick names which Luke juggled in time with the video & the music. Excellent innovation & a very tough act to perform too, I thought the pirouette was inspired...
Lindsay did his bit for comatose research again, the young lad singing 'stand by your man' also goes into the 'what was all that about?' category but in a far more entertaining way.
Little Paul also compered one of the nights (he may have mentioned trickswithhats.org once or twice), at one point he came on with his tennis racket with a view to squeezing through it, but someone threw on a slightly smaller juggling ring & LP accepted the challenge. More fool him. I found the bit where he had to get it past his nipple piercing particularly amusing.
The most talked about act of this year's renegade was undoubtedly Matt. He started off with some very sensible but impressive club balancing tricks, such as balancing one on each hand independently & balancing a club on the tip of the tongue, throwing it out of the mouth, kicking it back up into a hand balance. Then it all went a bit jackass, as he pulled out a stapler & stapled a banknote to his stomach. Then loads of people handed more & more notes which were all attached in the same way. It took several staples before Mini's T-shirt stayed in place. If that wasn't enough the notes were peeled off & out came a number of lengths of wood which were smashed, not always successfully, against Matt's stomach. After which he still hadn't had enough so he balanced a club on his chin & took a punch to the stomach from big Tat. The next morning I caught up with Matt in the trader's hall & he showed me his stomach which was red raw & covered in puncture wounds. I asked how much money he collected & he told me he gave it back, I couldn't believe it!
The Parade & Games
The coaches dropped us off on the sea front & we all assembled at the Palace Pier & listened to the Samba sounds of Beach Bateria while we waited. We danced, did a bit of passing, I showed a couple of people some diabolo tricks & admired the red leather boots of the girls in uniform. Also looking good was Guy Heathcote dressed in a great silver robot costume, with a sleek black backpack, a face mask straight from the Asimov robot novels & a pair of spring boots on his feet. There was a nice short parade alongside the beach until we reached the Ellipse, an oval (obviously) area which we claimed as our own for the games.
Charlie Dancey was in charge of introducing each event & handing out the prizes. The first event was a dash down the beach to the sea & back again whilst juggling. Loads of people jumped over the wall to the beach & headed off in the direction of France, then a little while later the first few heads appeared on the horizon & there were a few amusing tussles before anyone crossed the finishing line.
I never really got anywhere in the 3 club backcrosses, devilstick propeller, 5 ball & 5 club endurance games. The 5 ball event was fun to watch as when the field was whittled down to 6 everyone was stopped & one ball was replaced with an egg. Another event made more interesting in a similar way was the club balance endurance, after a dozen or so were left we were all stopped & given a plastic cup of water which had to be placed on the top before resuming. The actual balancing was no more difficult but the stakes were a little higher. In my peripheral vision I saw one guy lose his balance & the cup of water landing square in the face of another competitor, I never have been good at club balancing while laughing but at least I didn't get wet!
There was a good range of neat things performed in the 'my best trick' section. Not least a few attempts at a 5 ball flash pirouette into a 5 ball over head cascade which was so close to coming off nicely, there was a lovely 2 diabolo cradle trick, Luke tried stacking his bean bags on his head & many more. Sadly I missed the later events while going for something to eat, which included our man Dave L winning the three club gladiators event.
The most amusing game by far though was minciest poi swinging. The arena was packed with swingers camping it up & Charlie really enjoyed ejecting participants from the field for not mincing it enough. Bryn was the first to leave because of his choice of shirt!
After the games we spent some time at a bar before heading off into the city to find the great big onion. The Dome was even more plush than the Marlowe theatre, it was easily the best place ever to host a BJC public show to date. Most of the TWJC crowd got a seat in the front row of the top tier where we launched rocket balloons on to the crowd below. Kevin & Dave A played with mounting balloon sculptures on to the top of rocket balloons & letting them fly, once the rocket balloon had run out of air the balloon animal would float down to someone below.
The show was compered by Tim Bat, who was part of the team who organised the first ever European Juggling Convention which was also held in Brighton in 1978. In between acts he did a spot of hat juggling & some very good rope spinning tricks too. First on stage was young Arron Sparks performing his yoyo routine to the sound of the can can. I've seen it a few times now but all the loops, behind the back swings & all the other tricks are still worth watching. Graduates of The Circus Space Sam Hague & Stewart Pemberton performed their US prohibition era piece involving some cool tap dancing, saxophone playing, club passing & very cool leapfrog club steals. The best trick of the routine was a backward roll up into a handstand then catching a pass between the legs, very nice. Also from the Circus Space was a trio of acrobats who performed straight & twisting somersaults off a seesaw, a little club passing & some neat tumbling over each other. The best bit of the act was right at the start. One guy sat down & performed a nifty trick where clubs were picked up from each side alternately, rolled down the shins onto the floor where they rolled back round to the starting position again. People will be doing that in juggling halls all over the country this week... I didn't really 'get' the act but I enjoyed the content.
The Gandini Juggling Project performed a piece with Globalls based on the music of Vivaldi. There was fantastic use of the different colours, for example at one point all 4 jugglers in the troupe juggled 534 every throw was made in unison with 3 red balls & 1 blue isolated as the 3 throw. There was also lots of nice touches involving using the darkness to create the illusion of a juggler creating patterns with improbable proportions. As ever though the routine was spoiled by flash photography, when will people learn? I was really looking forward to seeing the club passing of Bibi & Bichu, many people have said how good they are so my expectations were high. I really enjoyed the start of the routine as they passed 5 clubs while circling & 6 clubs all with snappy tomahawks, alberts & so on. But as the juggling got more amazing the act became less interesting. They worked through 7, 8, 9 & 10 clubs first on singles then doubles then on triples before turning around & passing the lot back to back. There's no doubt that passing 9 on singles or 10 clubs back to back are legendary tricks, but by the time they had gotten around to it I was bored.
One of the best acts of the show for me was Bongo Bolero from Bristol. A comedy acrobalance duo who first came on & flirted a little but as they started dancing & performing balancing feats they started arguing more & more. The girl (Nikki Andrews) was superb with her bored expression & her battle with her ever rising dress. Both Nikki & Richard Durnford had excellent comic timing & were both wonderful characters. From Belfast came Yella Fever Foundation, a trio who performed a marching hat juggling routine which was very tight to the music albeit for one drop. Starting with one person doing some 3 hat work, then building up through to some 2 & 3 person stealing patterns using up to 6 hats. A very well choreographed routine indeed. Also passing clubs were Luka Luka, dressed in blue & orange the pair performed some innovative ways of passing clubs such as simultaneously rolling a club over the back of the head from a chin balance. Well deserving of being on last were The Racketeers, a 6 strong troupe all dressed up in tennis gear, they came on stage & enthusiastically limbered up, Sean ran around like a madman, Manu was practising his forehand & Kati showed us how fit she was too. Then they began a phenomenal passing routine using tennis balls & raquets to a heartpounding soundtrack. They performed patterns such as back to back feeds, 6 person lines & a 5 person star over the top of the sixth member who was spinning around playing air guitar. It was a fantastic end to a top show. While not quite up to the standard set by the Public show in York it was pretty close.
Thanks very much to...
The event was organised by the big cheese John Kennet, who was supported by Big Tat, Pippa Smith & Jon Linstrum. The event ran so smoothly that I required no extra help, therefore less thanks than usual! What can I say? Brighton replaces York as the best BJC to date.