British Juggling Convention 2004

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The 17th British Juggling Convention, Derby

15-Apr-2004 to 18-Apr-2004

The Fest

Derby was invaded by Kevin, Dave A, Cora, Andrew, Dave K, Dave L, Tasj, Anna & I along with 800 odd other jugglers from around the world. The tone for the festival was set when Dave K & I started drinking when we got out of the car (slightly more civilised than last year which saw two of our members start in Sainsbury's back in Tunbridge Wells).

We picked up our passes which were billed on the website as, "The most hi-tech convention passes to date". They were a strip of dayglo orange perspex with "BJC 2004" etched into them, on the end was a small white handle which when squeezed turned on a red LED which made the whole thing glow. Cool. I couldn't wait for it to get dark! Throughout the festival much fun was had 'throwing' the light across the Renegade & beer tents from pass to pass. Great idea people - easily the best pass yet.

The actual site was at Broomfield College, an agricultural college just outside of Derby. The camping space was good. The canteen did remarkably well especially considering its small size to efficiently serve a large number of people good food at good prices. I didn't actually use the bar in the beer tent once because we all went to the supermarket & bought er... ample supplies of drink. The shower facilities were very good whenever I used them, apart from the last day when apparently all the hot water had run out. A nice feature of the site was the uni trials area which was constructed from loads of pallets, planks of wood & industrial cotton reels. We had loads of fun on it even without unicycles!

Instead of a large juggling hall we had a four pole big top as our juggling space. The tent was enormous & had a great circus atmosphere to it, unfortunately though the lighting was seriously inadequate. The inside of the tent was a dark blue which just absorbed all light, making it extremely difficult to see whatever you were trying to juggle with. I found this really frustrating. There were many times when I was inspired by somebody & wanted to seriously work on something but simply couldn't. To further add to the problem the lights that were there were mounted way too low, Dave L, Dave K & myself kept trying to practise our running feeds but it always fell apart when someone ran to a point where they were staring straight into the lights. Every now & then the power would dip & a few lights would go out, the big cheers when they came back on again were a lot of fun though!

I attended three workshops this year, which is three more than I usually do. The first was Bill Berry's advanced three ball session. It was of course massively over subscribed, I think partly because a lot of people wanted to see Bill in action for the first time (which was my main reason). He showed us loads of nice little moves & flourishes, a few fork tricks & some really nice multiplex stuff too. We were also treated to a sneak preview of his top three ball routine & small cameo performances from the likes of Luke Burrage (throw a stacked triplex catch one ball in front of your chest, one on top of your head & one behind your back - woo!), Matt Hall & Robin Gunney.

Straight after that was a numbers passing workshop with the LaSalle brothers, Marty & Jake (twins). This was also massively oversubscribed given the space they had to work with so it became a demonstration/lecture/Q & A session instead. Again a lot of people wanted to see the guys do their stuff for the first time, others just wanted to get a load of their chiseled & clean cut Beverly Hills 90210 good looks. Many of us tend to frown at the idea of juggling competitions on this side of the Atlantic, but if this session was anything to go by we are still fascinated by it all. The main point that was really hit home to me was the American concept of 'teams'. Over here we tend to be relatively promiscuous with our passing partners, but Marty & Jake really train hard together & are really tightly in tune with each other. Simple things like the way they communicate while passing & respond to each other's commands was really slick. That sort of communication is something that just doesn't seem to happen over here. As for the important juggling side of things they demonstrated 6, 7 & 8 clubs all on brutally hard & fast singles that made Vova & Olga look almost tame in comparison. The most impressive feature of their patterns was how tight the timing was. While they demonstrated their patterns the room fell into silence to listen to a perfect clap - clap - clap pattern as they caught each club. Even when they changed speeds there was almost no perceivable difference between the two jugglers' rhythms.

They also showed us some of the tricks they perform such as continuous tomahawks & behind the back passes & how they worked up to them. Then they demonstrated how they worked up to passing ten clubs. First they did more drills to get their two five club solo patterns perfectly in sync with each other. They started at different times then quickly fell into the same even clap - clap - clap rhythm then stopped with a single clap - clap - clack - clack - clack, followed by a collective "Woah" from the audience. Throughout the session the brothers fielded loads of questions about training, throw technique & performance decisions. I wanted to ask, "If one of you passes with another person does the other one of you consider it as cheating?" but I didn't want to lower the tone.

Both Bill Berry & the LaSalle brothers apologised for the lack of space & time they had for their workshops & told everyone that it was perfectly ok to come & pester them in the halls or the big top to ask any other questions. I thought this was a really nice gesture, much nicer than that guy who charged people £75 to attend his workshop a few years back.

The third work shop I went to was entitled 'How to be a good juggler' by Luke Burrage, which was essentially another lecture (so high brow this year). I was expecting something silly like, "take these pills, one in the morning & one at night..." but it was actually a well thought out talk about having the right attitude towards juggling. Essentially it boiled down to 'practise' which we all know, but Luke covered many facets such as where to practise, for how long, what you should work on & a few different ways to do it. Again it was not anything particularly new or groundbreaking but it was nice to hear it all in one go. One particular point raised was, "When does a juggler peak?" Luke's answer to which was basically when that juggler thinks they have. If you think you can't get any better - you won't. Which is very true, I think I peaked some time in 2001. Expect an article to appear on the IJDb at some point (hint).

This year's Circomedia Showcase Show was really enjoyable, unfortunately though I can't actually remember much about it. There was a very enjoyable acrobatics & freestyle unicycling act featuring many painful stunts. The star of the show was undoubtedly hip hop hat juggler Pascal who juggled from one to four hats with real style. We'll be seeing him in other conventions' public shows real soon.


I missed everything on the Thursday night after over doing it a bit on the first day of the convention. Doh!

Can't really remember much other than a guy trying to be like his hero Bruce Lee & setting fire to his head & body hair which was very amusing. Ross performed a fantastic poem about 4x4 vehicles & the convention favourite - invisible poo. A lad from Ireland performed a song telling the story of Star Wars episode 1 to the tune of Don McClean's American Pie which brought the house down. The entire cast of the nail in the nose workshop got up to show what they had learnt, then walked out into the audience to have the nails drawn out by willing volunteers. I was one such volunteer & it was pretty disgusting.

On one night I had the pleasure of being three seats down from a guy as he threw up over the backs of two poor people & all over the seats. One of the NFSC crew (I have since found out that his name was Tim) helped the not exactly small person who had absolutely no control over any of his limbs out of the tent. Then he came back & cleaned up all the puke. Not a nice job, well done that man.

Saturday night was a disaster, behind the scenes was a lot of hostility & out front it was just stage invasion after stage invasion. The audience got more & more frustrated, then inevitably more & more aggressive. Jay Gilligan came on & suffered some really hostile heckling, all of which was unnecessary & undeserved. What gets me though is some people will be sitting in the audience thinking, "Wow! I'd really like to perform something on the renegade stage." Then on comes Jay who performs some really amazing things the likes of which many people, especially first-time convention goers will have never seen before & gets booed & jeered by a section of the crowd. Those people are left intimidated & won't get up onstage.

After last year's almost flawless Renegade shows I was looking forward to more of the same friendly atmosphere. Friday night was good but Saturday was painful to watch. Renegade has evolved in the few years that I have been attending, it used to be a load of jugglers having a laugh together, the audience & the performers were one single entity. Now it is an 'us & them' situation with the performers trying to satisfy an ever more demanding & critical audience. I suppose it was inevitable, the standard of juggling as a whole has improved. The Renegade audience has been treated to acts of an increasingly quality, & have become less easily impressed & sadly more demanding. I think this is a great shame. The friendly 'show us anything regardless of what it is' nature of old is one of the reasons why the BJC became popular worldwide. It is capable of encouraging great things - take the fact that this year's public show included two acts first seen on the Renegade stage as an example.

If you don't like something - go & do something else. Don't intimidate others with aggressive heckling. It doesn't matter if that person is 'famous' or 'big enough to take it' they are still putting themselves up on stage & doing something they have put a lot of work into. The same goes for the comperes & the stage crew.

I'd just like to stress that this is not in anyway the fault of the organisers, & I feel guilty for writing such a negative rant in a review of the result of their enormous hard work.

The Games

I didn't really see much as we spent most of the time drinking in a bar. Most of us joined in with the three club gladiators though. I think I managed to knock Charlie Dancey out twice. That's what happens if you publish your tactics in a top selling book. On the first game I made it to the last half dozen or so before making a stupid drop, our reigning champion Dave L who won the event last year managed to make the final two.

I really enjoyed watching a very well played game of unicycle hockey. I remember playing once many years ago & most people seemed to spend more time falling off than actually riding their uni. This game was superb though, loads of dribbling round players, crunching tackles, some lovely passes both long down the pitch & short in tight clumps of players. It ended 4-3, I don't really know who to but that wasn't the point. Also on exhibition was the uni trials competition. The on-site trials course was dismantled & reassembled in the town for some time trials which saw loads of unimaniacs bouncing up & down the course. Judging by the crowd of both festival attendees & members of the general public, it proved very popular.

After all the games had finished we had a few hours to kill before the show, after a pretty big meal in another pub we wandered round town for a bit before settling down on some grounds beside the river. We started playing gladiators & were joined a little later by two people called Dan from Doncaster. We must have played 20 or 30 really enjoyable games, everyone won at least once I think. Playing out in the sunshine was definitely one of the highlights of my convention.

The Show

The show was held in the Assembly Rooms in Derby's town centre, as per the norm the TWJC crowd found seats in the top tier. Aside from the usual balloon chain the audience had a lot of fun playing with the TWJC beach ball (many thanks to the Irish contingent who helped take shifts in blowing it up). It was a lot of fun watching it bounce around the audience & watching Guy Heathcote try to bat it with his umbrella. As soon as the lights went out everyone lit up their convention passes which was a beautiful sight. The show opened with some 70s disco dancing & three ball juggling courtesy of Mad Pangea, which I recall seeing on the Renegade stage at BJC 2002. After the opening we were introduced to our compere: long time favourite Mr Jules, the last leopard from Wales. He introduced Luke Burrage & Luke Burrage as the next performer(s). The stage was set with a large white screen behind which you could see the silhouette of a prop stand with some clubs & balls. Then on walks Luke dressed smartly in red & white & walks behind the screen. We then see his silhouette bang himself on the side of the head & out of his ear pops another Luke! Very nice indeed. The two Luke's - one acting like Dr Jekyl, the other like Mr Hyde then take turns popping out from behind the screen to show us lots of impressive juggling feats with balls & clubs. All the while the Luke on stage interacts with the Luke behind the screen. A superb act.

The second 'Renegade act done good' was Andy & Sandra of Fistful of Lice, they presented their rapid fire hat passing & juggling routine. Highly polished & wonderful to watch. I was sitting there watching them swap hats trying to pick out individual patterns but it is very difficult - I should have gone to their workshop. Max Haverkamp elegantly juggled & rolled three balls around his body in the dim glow of an overhead spotlight. Susan Voyticky performed an aerial hoop act which was interesting as the pace changed from slow & graceful to thrashing around to rock music. The act should be remembered for the finishing trick where Susan hangs in the air holding the hoop seemingly with the back of the head. I think that most people will remember her bright red pants though. Individually they were both very good, but later in the show the pair joined together to form the Crossed Stars Project, each performing their own skills but combining them in new & interesting ways to make something so much more than the some of its parts. The development of this act was funded by the BJC surplus award. Money very well spent people, well done.

Matt Hall was on fine form throughout the whole festival (there was a rumour going round that someone had broken into the college pharmacy stolen a horse tranquilizer dart & shot Matt with it to see if it had any effect - the answer was no). His first act was just him & three cigar boxes building to ever more difficult moves. He also performed his silver medal winning 'Old Skool' ball juggling & diabolo routine. The ball juggling was the same as that seen in Svendborg, lots of siteswap tricks with 1s being passed under the leg & behind the back. Going by the cheers Matt's funky breakdancing was the best bit of his act but truthfully his diabolo skills were something else. The combination moves he did with one diabolo where the diabolo ends up being released into the air then snagged by swinging a handstick at it were especially amazing.

Many of us were really looking forward to seeing Jonathan Root & Bill Berry aka Team RootBerry perform in the UK for the first time. Their spot started off with Bill's award winning 3 ball routine which I loved. It is only about 2 minutes long but there isn't a single respite in the barrage of tricks finishing with a behind the back catch then boom - an explosion of applause. Bill also performed some 3 club juggling while swallowing a sword. Jonathan swung a flying pig round his head which trailed a length of toilet roll (?!) while Bill whipped it apart sheet by sheet with a bullwhip. The most fun part of their act was the juggling of three massive floating bean bags between them in numerous patterns such as 441 & the box. Silly & very funny. The show's second IJA gold medal winning team was The LaSalle Brothers. Starting off with some cheesy dancing they performed lots of snappy Las Vegas style passing with three, six, seven & eight clubs intermixed with more dancing & some acrobatics. Before starting their five club work, the music changed, they whipped off their shirts & Tasj had an orgasm. Amongst some snappy five club steals they also performed some leapfrog steals & a very fast leapfrog through the five club pattern. After that they finished with a characteristically clean run of ten clubs - finish - huge applause.

The best act of the show for me was Jay Gilligan, who performed the most Jay Gilliganesque act yet seen. Pretty much every rule of performance was broken. No costume, periods of time when he wasn't even on stage, no particular structure for the audience to follow & so on. But it was all fantastic. Starting with an empty stage he came on from the audience & kept disappearing into the wings. After a short while various bits of juggling kit would be hurled onto the stage & left to lay where they fell. Then he'd do some juggling, disappear off stage again to scatter some more kit on the stage then come back again. His sound track was played through his onstage ghetto blaster, in between tricks he'd fiddle with the controls & even stopped it to change CD at one point. In between throwing things on stage the juggling he performed was top class. Loads of carry & placing tricks with three clubs & three rings, multiplexes with four & five clubs, a huge range of six ball multiplex patterns, some six club stuff & very long runs of six & seven balls (easily 100+ catches with each). Jay did some more irregular stuff such as juggling with a couple of roomerangs while turning round on stage. He also juggled three balls & a balloon, firstly he threw the balloon up then juggled a cascade while waiting for it to float down. Then he'd do a three ball flash, catch & throw the balloon again then resume juggling. After that he kept the balloon afloat by continually throwing a ball into the underside of the balloon to bat it up in the air again, all the while maintaining a cascade. It was this act that ensures that I will buy Alan Plotkin's DVD when it comes out.

A very good show indeed.

Thanks very much to...

Andy Vass & the team of jugglers from Derby & Nottingham for putting on a great event under very difficult conditions.

Kevin for the lift.

Dave K for acting as a pace setter on the drinking front.

My Mum again for another high quality batch of LIHM.