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The 21st British Juggling Convention, Doncaster
26-March-2008 to 30-March-2008
The Doncaster Dome was a great venue for the BJC. The main entrance led into a large circular lobby the centre of which was packed full of traders. Circling round the outside of the lobby was a wide balcony which provided a nice viewing platform to chill on & was used by lots of unicyclists. Leading off the balcony was another viewing gallery which looked out over the 24 hour hall which had plenty of space & was well lit. Also leading off the circular balcony were a public bar & a juggler's bar serving drinks & food. There were a lot of complaints that service was slow in each but I never had a single problem. The Dome also provided cheap swiming & ice skating to festival goers.
The main campsite was less than ideal, I think it had not long been cleared of vegetation because the whole area was covered with woody stumps. It must have been a popular fly tipping spot as well because I pulled up a full length broom handle & a hair dryer out from the mud as well as loads of scrap metal & cans.
Outside the hall was pitched the Swamp tent which was used for workshops, many of the shows, the band on Saturday night & Renegade. Unfortunately this tent is simply far too small for the high attendance now seen at the BJC & I missed out on seeing a few of the shows as a result.
There was also a number of small halls for practise & workshops (particularly unicycling) at a nearby school but unfortunately it was just that little bit too far away for most people to venture out to on foot which led to it being underused.
The site's greatest asset though was probably the 24 hour Asda located a minute's walk away which kept the cost of the festival well down for most of us. I found it amusing how the shelves stocked with two litre bottles of cider were consistantly emptied over the course of the festival.
Trying to volunteer proved difficult again this year but we did manage to do a tour of badge control & I also made £1.06 in small change while clearing litter from the viewing gallery. Unfortunately though I never got a wee man for my efforts.
Prior to the festival Nicky had been hoping to try an aerial skill & was delighted to find on the notice board a sign up sheet for a static trapeze workshop which luckily had a few empty slots still available. I didn't expect her to sign me up as well though. I've never been into aerial that much, probably because I've seen so many boring generic aerial acts, still I thought I might as well give it a go.
We turned up early to find the instructors still asleep in the centre of the big top! So we thought we'd let them sleep in & started warming up in the beer tent instead. Lots of other girls turned up & started their fancy yoga workouts as well which didn't make me feel inadequate in the slightest.
We all took turns to try out a number of progressively harder moves. Hanging from one leg was particularly painful & later in the week we joined up with some other participants to compare the interesting patterns formed from bruises. It hurt to walk for the rest of the day but was well worth it.
Nicky & I also attended a beginners bar flair workshop which was also a first for me. I thought it was an interesting decision to run a beginners workshop with a load of glass bottles which did indeed have the inevitable results.
Kevin tagged along for a trek over to the school gym for a kendama workshop run by Tom Derrick & aided by fellow Team KD member Guy Heathcote. Tom took us through the full range of moves on the British Kendama Championship tricklist. Nicky infuriatingly struggled with many of the early tricks but when it came to Ken saki suberi (catch the ball so that it is resting on the spike then slide the spike back & into the hole without losing contact) she was able to do it perfectly from the start & looked at the rest of us as if we were stupid.
Only a few things stick in my mind from Renegade this year. Arron Gregg hurling plungers at a volunteer's back & the big red marks they left behind was very funny, & the guy who bit through a beer can was quite astonishing.
There was a severe weather warning announcement during one of the shows which prompted most people to go about reinforcing their tents ready for the gales. I think most people came away unscathed but some of the taller tents took a bit of a battering.
Saturday night after the show we made our way into the big top for the wonderfully theatrical Les Vegas and the International Playboys of Rhythm & their swinging take on unlikely modern songs. The band were fronted by two glamorous high society girls in full evening gowns, & knocking back cans of wifebeater! The spontaneous moshpit for Motorhead's Ace of Spades was amusingly out of place. As usual the dance floor was packed from the first song onwards & remained that way until the end of their set & encores. Jugglers really are fantastic.
British Young Juggler of the Year Show
As stage manager one of Tom Derrick's duties was to set the stage before each act. Luke Hallgarten required a table which was to be made from a board supported by juggling clubs. As many of us already know juggling clubs are not well suited for construction purposes & after several agonisingly close tries Tom gave up & became the table himself. When Luke came on stage he was facing away from his human table & did a lap around the front of the ring before finally noticed that the stage was not quite as he expected it to be. Probably much funnier than originally intended.
Luke's act was very well put together, he came on as a clown who did generic clowny stuff then sat next to his pet table for a stiff drink before bursting into life to do the juggling he really wanted to do which was a load of neat one to four club manipulation. He neatly picked up five at a few points during the routine but put them down again, possibly to intentionally frustrate the audience? Nice touch if so. I've heard a lot of positive raving about this act but I'm not so sure seeing as I saw the exact same premise in the Circomedia Showcase Show 2 years ago in Bodmin. Very well performed all the same though.
Winning my vote & the Crawley Convention award (good choice Dave!) was Reuben from Cambridge who performed a very slick 3 ball routine with lots of unfathomable patterns smoothly woven together. He was very smart of appearance, chose appropriate music & had that intangible likeability factor that improved everything he did. Aside from being a bit droppy the only criticism that I could level at his performance was that he was rooted to the spot.
Jon Booth threatened my prediction from last year about diaboloists as he leaped around a big wooden box while spinning more fantastic diabolo to Steve Vai. Had his routine been cleaner I think I would have been proved wrong. There was another diaboloist as well but I can't remember his name or what he did. As it is my prediction stands that no diaboloist will win the BYJOTY title for at least four years (it was five last year).
Last year's champion Ady Pole returned as baby Bono, in full Bono outfit & backed by a baby Edge too. The juggling was good but the novelty is wearing thin for me.
There were no prizes for guessing who influenced first time performer Harry Smith the most. He performed a nicely balanced three club manipulation routine full of Pedenesque manipulation which started off fantastically but became rather droppy towards the end.
Sarah Biskup dropped Shakira & the belly dancing but kept the three to five balls. I wasn't impressed with the three ball stuff possibly because there was nothing new for me & there was too much shuffling around but everything else was much better. With four balls she pulled off studly 534 mess, 7531, multiplex & high-low showers, with five she did half showers, (6x,4)*, multiplex showers & lots of multiplex stuff. It was a pretty standard up through the numbers routine but very enjoyable & considerably less droppy than most.
Also juggling up through the numbers with balls was Luke Galloway, going through three to six. I wasn't enamoured on his juggling style, he never really looked comfortable, possibly due to nerves. When juggling the higher numbers he had a tendancy to juggle at arms length which gave the impression that he wasn't confident enough in his own pattern to put his face next to it for fear of getting clobbered. He had some good skills but seemed very twitchy & nervous, he was jumping around a bit too fast which caused him to drop then snatching the balls off the floor & beginning the next trick before he had finished standing up causing him to drop more. I think a slower calmer approach would have done the routine the world of good.
Poor Nina had a bit of a nightmare with her cigar box performance, still she put my drop sweepstake entry back in contention.
Matt Wright has greatly improved since his first BYJOTY appearance, he's still wearing the leather trousers but done the right thing & worn a T-shirt this time, he also wore a very showy billowing trenchcoat which although looked really good as he moved was unfortunately responsible for many of his drops. His skills have come on leaps & bounds too, he was much more confident & considerably less finger tippy. Very well done.
I was expecting a bland technical exhibition from Freddy Sheed but was pleasantly surprised with a high energy performance backed by Michael Jackson with lots of movement & the obligatory crotch grabbing. It was also relatively drop free. It was so high end & drop free in fact that Freddy walked away with both the judges choice & the BYJOTY title which is a first for the competition.
British Kendama Championships
After Tom's workshop I went along to Void's stall & bought a pair of spangly new TK16s & some how I was signed up to enter the competition.
I turned up a bit early & had a practice with my new toys. Guy Heathcote & Matt Pang helped me remember what all the tricks were & gave me some helpful hints. Guy was going through the entire tricklist performing each ten times in a row before moving on to the next. Team KD were obviously not taking any prisoners. I also got to play with Guy's giant Kendama which was pretty hard to hold with one hand.
The event kicked off with a quick freestyle jam session where all the competitors took turns to show off their greatest tricks on stage. There were loads of really impressive tricks on show, mostly from Team KD members but quite a few others joined in too. My best trick got a cheer as well. Yay!
As head judge of the competition we were lucky to be joined by Mr Kenichi Kinukawa who works for the Japanese embassy in London, he gave a very interesting short talk about the history of Kendama & a bit about the Japanese scene.
The rules for the competition were simple, competitors would go up on stage in threes & work through the first ten 'easy' tricks of the official tricklist in order getting three attempts at each trick. Anyone completing all ten tricks would progress to the final round. The final round was the same again except that competitors would get five attempts at each of the final ten hard tricks from the tricklist. The winner would be the person who progressed furthest through the tricklist. In the event of one or more competitors reaching the same level the competitor with the least number of misses on previous levels would rank higher. In the event of a tie at this stage then there would be a face off where the tied players would compete to see who could do the most catches of Moshi Kame in one minute.
The competition was fun & lighthearted. Noteworthy points inlcluded Guy's EPIC battle with the Lighthouse which he managed to keep balanced for nearly half a minute but never still for three seconds. Luke Burrage managed to get through to the final round during which he had to have the tricks explained & demonstrated to him on the fly. He was more surprised to hit Kuuchuu Buranko than anyone! Luke Wilson only managed to get through the first few easy rounds before missing three attempts prompting the commentry team to note, "Luke Wilson: one of the best jugglers in the world, but strangely one of the worst competitors here today!"
I was dead chuffed to get through to the final round, but gutted to go out on Furiken (swing the ball, catch on the spike) which is usually one of my most solid tricks (I did it five times in a row immediately after the competition, meh). Still that put me in joint 8th place with Luke Burrage! It turned out that we also had the same number of misses on previous rounds putting us into a Moshi Kame showdown. Unfortunately Luke had disappeared & Pola had unwittingly came on to collect her boyfriend's prize not realising what was going on. I ruthlessly went through 80 catches before losing concentration & dropping while poor Pola who doesn't do Kendama managed err... two. So there you go, 'officially' I came eighth!
At the other end of the scale Team KD predictably dominated the proceedings but only The Void managed to complete every trick on the list. There was mention of a "Jason Garfield Award" for winning his own competition, but there was no controversy & The Void was a clear & deserving winner.
Many thanks & kudos to The Void for organising the event & generously donating many of the prizes along with the Japanese Kendama Association who also generously swelled the prize pool.
The Public Show
The Main juggling hall was closed for Saturday afternoon while it was prepared for the evening show causing a few complaints (can you really not think of anything else to do?). After a bit of a queue we were all let inside again which was the shock of the festival. I couldn't believe it was the same hall! The tech crew had set up full grandstand seating (enough for the 1500 people there to watch the show), loads of blackout curtaining around the walls, a massive stage fully equipped with lighting & sound desk to rival a dedicated theatre. It was quite an amazing transformation. Top marks for the range of music played during the build up party too, you can't beat a bit of Chesney.
The compere for the evening was Donald Grant who was looking very dapper in his formal Scottish attire. He kept the show going with no fuss & deserves an award for his 'Shephard's Poi' pun alone.
First on stage was Tiff who I last saw perform at the first BYJOTY at BJC 2005 in Perth. Back then I wrote that he was the best juggler but the worst performer, & I hoped he'd, "return & give it a bit of sell", which he most certainly did. He performed a probably Jay Gilligan inspired routine with his trademark ridiculously hard siteswaps with up to 7 balls, all while wearing a big Parka coat, running a half marathon all over the stage & engaging the audience throughout. Brilliant stuff.
Superstar diaboloists The Sharpe Brothers (Jacob & Nate) blew me away with their spectacular one & two diabolo steals & transfers, a long smooth run of four diabolos solo, really tight passing of five all in a really flashy Las Vegas style.
Jacob also did a solo spot earlier in the show which, although exceptionally good, was a little redundant. I knew that their double act was coming up & that it would be a much stronger piece so I just couldn't get enthused, probably by my own will because I didn't want to spoil the double act.
Visiting from the US was Peter Irish who is the most ambidextrous hacky sacker I have ever seen, in amongst all the 'pure' hackysack moves he juggled a number of siteswap patterns where the high throws were foot catches in various knee twisting combinations. Although his routine was very formulaic building up through the numbers using both feet & hands it was still very enjoyable because it was pretty much all stuff I hadn't seen before. I'm sure thousands of jugglers have thought about juggling three balls with their feet while juggling another three balls with their hands but I believe that Peter is the first person to have actually done it, & he does it very well too.
Lorenzo performed more of the same clowning around mixed with really technical hat juggling that I first saw at EJC 2006. I could've sworn I have seen him perform at a BJC before but apparently I'm wrong. It was nice to see my fellow club members enjoy his antics as much as I did for the first time. I still think that you have to be a very brave performer to do a silent act & be able to pull it off, & Lorenzo is one such person.
Local performer Max Lastic was unusual in that he is a male contortionist. He hit all the right cringe-making buttons. From Berlin Pro Drop presented lots of takey-out passing patterns. I really liked the homoerotic/narcissistic costumes & all the manly posing. I'm sure I would've really liked the juggling, but I don't remember a single trick that ran long enough to really work out what was going on which was a real shame.
Closing the show was Erik Borgman who apparently usually does a spectacular football juggling act, unfortunately it was not his night & I learnt later that his airline lost his props so was unable to rehearse which could explain the rather flat performance.
The runaway star of the night was Senmaru who certainly is the most famous person from Japan, at least in the BJC community. I think that for pretty much every juggling show I have been to opinion has been divided among the audience over who was the best performer. Even for the show at BJC 2K in York I know that a lot of people rated other acts higher than superstar Anthony Gatto. I think everyone left this show raving about Senmaru more than all the others.
So what was so good? Well he stormed on stage in immaculate Japanese dress, the bright colours made his every movement easy to see but without making it hard to see his props. He was brandishing a strange contraption which consisted of a tall pole, at the top of which was a short, thick tube running horizontally. On top of the tube rose two cups, one higher than the other & in the middle of these was a small swinging cradle. He held this prop aloft in one hand & using his other hand he juggled two balls around it in every conceivable manner. Such an alien prop had everyone captivated from the start, as soon as he finished & while we the audience were still thinking that the start was really amazing he dismissed it as easy by comically shouting, "Warm up! Warm up!", ensuring he had undivided attention for the rest of the act.
Unlike most acts I have seen I can clearly remember every single trick he did, including rolling a ball, then a ring, then a rectangular box(!!!) on a parasol. Balancing & throwing a china teapot on a mouthstick & transfering it from mouthstick to another stick balanced on his forehead & balancing a pole which had the lower end wrapped by a length of string held between his two hands so that when he raised one hand above the other the pole gradually slid down the string spinning all the way & much more, only a fraction of which I have ever seen before.
In between all the stupidly difficult tricks Senmaru was hilarious with an infectious manic personality, playing up to Japanese stereotypes & ridiculing the audience's ignorance of Japan at the same time brilliantly. The whole package blended to perfection. I don't think I've ever written so much about one performer before. It was the best act of any kind I have seen in any show or on TV.
Well done Void for spotting Senmaru, & very well down to Mamph (Sam Vines) for booking him & all the other great acts as well. It was a really fantastic show.