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The 27th European Juggling Convention, Carvin
25-Jul-2004 to 1-Aug-2004
I hitched a lift with Dave K & Catherine to Dover where we caught a ferry bound for Boulogne. Dave & I went up on deck for a bit to look out to sea. Dave had his sunglasses tucked into his T-shirt but the wind still managed to whip them out & over the barrier. Luckily they came to rest on the deck beyond the barrier & managed to stay there for the rest of the crossing until one of the Speedferries staff hopped over the barrier to retrieve them.
It was a nice quick crossing & we were soon in France. The countryside we drove through on the way to the site looks much the same as my Sussex countryside with lots of rolling fields interspersed with woodland. I liked the way that crash barriers at the sides of some of the larger roads showed an occasional flash of uniqueness, sometimes being erected in a curve leading vertically up into the sky or round in a spiral up a tree all for no apparent reason other than to look interesting. The speed limits were confusing at first, I don't think my car is capable of doing 110mph.
We made it to site & wandered in to the bustling info point to be greeted by a bleach blonde Mini, who directed us to the GB desk & advised us to, "Get a tent up quick!" So we grabbed the bare minimum from the car & found a spot on the outer rim of the running track which did us fine. At the time I thought Mini was over reacting a bit, there seemed like plenty of space for 2500 odd jugglers to me...
Earlier in the year I said I would go out running with Dave one morning at the BJC, unfortunately though the day we selected was raining heavily (such a shame) but I had no such get out clause in Carvin. So on Monday morning it was on with my trainers & running shorts ready to join Dave & Catherine for a run. To put things into a little perspective, I haven't done any running since I was at college 6 years ago & then I only did short distance sprinting. Catherine is a regular runner who recently did very well in a local 10km race. Dave is training for the New York Marathon this November. We set off running from the info point & the pace was the equivalent of my natural walking speed when I am hungry. I found it really difficult at first to run so slowly but I managed to find a rhythm & just kept pace. It was at about 2 miles according to Dave that I gave out & resigned myself to walking while the two athletes carried on up the road. Apparently Dave signaled a turning to me but I didn't have my glasses on so I didn't see a thing. It was quite some time before we found each other again. Catherine & I decided to walk back to site as we had both had quite enough of a work out. It took us about 20 minutes to trek back to the site where we saw Dave still running, "Are you finished?" Catherine asked. "No, I'm going out for another lap" Dave replied.
It was Thursday before my legs stopped aching.
There was a lot of really impressive juggling going on. I saw a guy balancing a tablespoon on his head kickup onto a unicycle then juggle 5 balls while hovering without dropping the spoon. Ben Beever drew a small crowd outside one night running various 5 ball siteswaps & mills mess tricks with 5 green Globalls. I saw 4 club mills mess performed with spirals & showers, there was a guy trying to spin 4 balls in a stack. Early one morning I watched Luke practicing for his open stage act (I'm not quite sure how long he had been waving at me before I realised he was doing so), lots of really nice four club stuff especially with triple singles & summertime kickups up into 5 clubs. He also laid out 9 beanbags on the floor & worked up through the numbers performing a flash with each successive number. I've seen 7 ball 7 up pirouettes, some ridiculously hard footbag moves, 11 club passing, 3 diabolo suicides & more. Amazingly the average now seems to be 5 clubs, seven balls, 8 club passing, 2 diabolos with an arsenal of around the world tricks, 2 devilsticks & the ability to run 5 ball siteswaps. Eek!
The site itself was vast & well equipped. Loads of camping space, a great food market (more on that in a bit), a nice big beer tent, large traders tent, breakfast tent, a small show tent for bands & DJs, a renegade tent & a massive 8 pole tent for the open stage & gala shows. Some people complained that there were not quite enough toilets & showers but I never had any problems at all. There was a free swimming pool available to use for a limited number of people at a time - provided you had the correct attire. Just off the main info point there was a full internet cafe equipped with about 15 or so machines (all running Linux earning the convention extra bonus points) plus there was Wi-Fi access for people with their own machines, all of this available for free. Next to that was a painting area for people to 'express themselves' or paint silly cardboard signs to wear around site. Allegedly there was a man wearing a sign saying, 'You can't see me!' but I never saw him.
The vast majority of people juggled outside in the nonstop beaming sunshine. There always seemed to be a game of gladiators going on in front of the beer tent. For those of us with a more pasty & white complexion there was a large hall which was permanently packed out with people. Most of the time it was far too crowded for me to juggle in, but a short 2 minute walk down the road found 2 much larger gyms which were also extremely well used but had much more space to offer. Attached to one of these halls was a full skate park complete with a large halfpipe which proved very popular with the trials unicyclists.
The food was utterly fantastic, this was easily the best convention for meal times & the first festival I have been to where I have actually put on weight while attending! A small market of caterers between the main building & the bar tent provided something for everyone from midday to well into the next morning, all at reasonable prices & all with a minimum of queuing. Curries, pasta & rice dishes, tartaflette, paella, falafel & more. Some days I had up to 5 meals. Given the number of hungry jugglers at the festival the staff worked absolute wonders, always fast, efficient & friendly. Job well done.
Didn't actually go to a single one this year. Sorry!
We caught Sean Gandini for a quick chat on Tuesday, the day before we watched the show. He warned us that it was three hours long & that he didn't expect people to sit through the whole lot of it & that he hoped people would pop in to catch bits of it at a time. At the time I had every intention of watching the whole thing...
The Gandini Juggling Project were at the EJC in full force to perform their new show 10 000. The stage was set in one of the off site halls, which had a grandstand of concrete steps for seating over looking a large square area like a gymnastics floor. The sound track for the show was simply various people taking it in turns to count from 1 to 10 000 in various languages. It was interesting to pick out those languages you could understand, but after an hour it had the unfortunate effect of making you rather drowsy. The drowsiness & the uncomfortable concrete floor meant that I only manage to last until 6 700 & something.
The show itself seemed to be a a compilation of best bits from some of the Gandinis' many other shows accompanied with some real feats of endurance. The most notable example of which was the three club juggler who simply juggled while walking around the edge of the square pausing at each corner for a while before making his way to the next one. There was an amusing bit where Owen Reynolds cheekily kept cutting him off by standing in front of him & pulling off lots of snappy flourishes & chops in an effort to distract him from his task. He did this for almost two hours earning a well deserved round of applause when he made his way to the centre & finally stopped.
Another endurance piece (& one of the highlights of the show) saw 4 jugglers all juggling 5 objects. One person toss juggled 5 balls, while another bounced, one person juggled 5 rings & Manu Laude juggled 5 clubs for a really long time. Pretty much all eyes were on Manu as fatigue started to set in, he dropped only a few seconds before what was obviously the predetermined time for the sequence & the look of pain on his face was heart breaking. I still can't believe how anyone could have been disappointed with a run such as that!
Other highlights for me included all the four person club passing featuring the core Gandini group of Sean Gandini, Kati Yla-Hokkala, Manu Laude & Inaki Sastre performing a number of complex feeds & set pieces at a rapid pace. Malte Steinmetz dressed smartly in a dinner suit did a couple of solo spots with 3, 4 & 5 clubs performing lots of original tricks with great style & personality (book for the BJC public show!). The core group again doing the incredible limping walk (it amused me), a very young Joelle Huguenin flawlessly running loads of hard 4 ball siteswaps & lots of other things.
It was a very interesting show full of variety & lots of really hard technical juggling, definitely one for Gandini enthusiasts. I do wish I had the endurance to have stayed for the whole thing.
I managed to catch every night of Renegade apart from the first & last days of the convention. Every one was really enjoyable with a great party atmosphere. Every night I was there it was very enthusiastically hosted by Bob from Canada. Each show typically went on until sunrise, yet every now & then I'd catch Bob wandering round site in the mornings. The man is quite simply a legend.
Considering how much of the convention I spent watching renegade I can't actually remember all that much. The girl falling off of the static trapeze & hitting the ground with a cringe inducing thud before getting up & waving certainly sticks in my mind. As does Luke & various other audience members climbing up the tent poles after a pretty young German girl. One person got up & provided the audience with a mini fashion show demonstrating the various ways of wearing the convention pass - back pack, hip bag, hat & (inevitably) thong. One night when the music from the nearby rave tent was particularly loud renegade started off with a free style show where the compere announced that the stage was open & asked people to jump up & show us a trick. It was a really great fast paced & varied show to watch - something that should definitely be encouraged at the next BJC methinks.
One night saw a great show put on by Marcus Furtner who after running through a great selection of tricks with two devilsticks was challenged to run double propellors for one hour just like his fellow countryman Thomas Dietz did last year in Svendborg. He took up position & immediately he was joined by an array of people wanting to join the one hour club. Luke was juggling 4 balls, another juggled 3, next to him was a man perpetually swigging from a bottle, further down the line was a bunny hopping unicyclist, a contact juggler & more. Very few of which made it to the full one hour mark, everyone was only interested in Marcus though. He completed the challenge & received a standing ovation & was carried round the tent on a few people's shoulders. To anyone else the task would be a mammoth undertaking but I get the sneaky impression that to him it wasn't really that difficult.
We caught the first performance of the gala show at 5pm, after being kept out in the baking sun for a bit too long we managed to get some pretty good seats on the left tier. What seemed like thousands of people kept streaming in to an already baking tent. It was almost unbearably hot, so much so that I was seriously considering dropping out of watching the second half. Judging by the number of empty seats after the interval I think a lot of people did just that. In the end though I was highly rewarded for sticking it out. Thankfully the comperes did a great job at keeping things short by restricting their roles to conducting applause & introducing each act.
The show opened with a performance by the International Juggling Orchestra conducted by young Ofek once more. I think I preferred it the first time around at the EJC in Svendborg, apparently there were some technical problems during the first show & that second time round the act was much better. I very much liked the stage invasion which led to a game of gladiators among the 'musicians' though. Karen performed a ball bouncing routine atop a podium. She was elegantly dressed & used her high heels to pick up extra silis. I can't remember that much other than a pretty low 7 ball lift bounce pattern. Some person whose name escapes me performed some really nice isolation moves with large rings as well as lots of nifty rolling across the shoulders stuff.
Jay Gilligan & Manu Laude performed an act considerably more 'mainstream' than Jay's usual stuff which pleased Jay's critics after his act at the BJC in Derby. The pair performed loads of highly technical crowd pleasing tricks, lots of interesting side by side passing patterns, steals & pattern sharing plus more passing with big numbers & finishing with 11 clubs all performed with a great deal of energy. Two guys, Stephan Sing juggling 3 balls & Philip Meyhoefer, a human beat box combined to add a fresh twist to your average artistic 3 ball routine, for me this was one of the highlights of the show even if Dave thought it was, "just a guy spitting into a microphone".
The very attractive Lena performed with 1 to 3 diabolos, I wasn't really all that impressed probably because I had already seen her perform the best trick of her act previously at the festival. I watched most of this act on one of the projection screens, I have a sneaky suspicion that the camera operator may have been more interested in Lena's body than her actual diaboloing. Thomas 'one hour!' Dietz came on & set up his iPod & performed some of his world renowned poi swinging skills. Before the real sounds kicked in & we were treated to the really hard technical stuff with long runs of 5 club back crosses, loads of 5 ball pirouette & siteswap moves such as 97531 with the 1 handed behind the back, 7, 8 & 9 balls as well. Tough stuff indeed.
After a brief display of can-can dancing Tony Frebourg made a grand showbiz entrance onto the stage before breaking out the diabolos & pulling off nice around the world & suicide sequences with 2 diabolos, plus pirouettes under 2 & 3 plus a short run with 4 diabolos. In amongst all this Tony tumbled across the stage & showed us how well he can do the splits. Unfortunately though the act ended with way too much choreographed milking of applause, applause which wasn't actually there. It was really painful waiting for him to get off the stage. Were there boos coming from some of the audience?
Finishing up was Françoise Rochais who started off in period costume & performed some very slow & graceful moves with three umbrellas, & combination tricks with batons, umbrellas & rings. Then the music changed, she whipped off the dress revealing a sexy black number & then performed many pirouette tricks with 4 batons, her long hair whipping through her patterns as she spun before ending with an impressive run with 6 batons. The top act of the show for me was the sensational duo of Take That Out from Germany. They performed a martial arts extravaganza with live action Matrix-esque slow motion sequences with an uncountable variety of steals & takeouts. There were a few drops but still extremely impressive, funny, thoroughly entertaining & well deserving of their standing ovations. Overall it was a top show as you'd expect from an EJC. I didn't even notice the lack of variety (everything was either toss juggling or diabolo) until it was pointed out to me later in the evening.
What a simply fantastic convention! It seemed to me that absolutely everything was right. The organising team did a top rate job dealing with so many people seemingly without any problems. Not only was it the biggest juggling festival in history it was also probably the best.