As always with the European Juggling Convention, excitement was building months in advance. This time the excitement was amplified as the EJC was returning to the same venue that hosted the world’s biggest gathering of jugglers in 2006. The Irish are well-known for being a good craic and Irish jugglers are no different; there was nothing but praise for the previous Irish EJC so those who went eight years ago were excited to be returning and infecting those who hadn’t been before with their enthusiasm.
As Ireland is on the edge of Europe, and Millstreet is not the most accessible part of Ireland, the 2014 convention was always going to be smaller than some of the more central locations. This is not a bad thing at all and it was quite nice to be able to easily nip back to your tent and to regularly bump into the people you know.
Another consequence of the smaller attendance is fewer shows than some other EJCs. There is something to be said for this as well. Although there was an Open Stage every night (except Friday and Saturday) not having ticketed shows almost every day, as was the case in Toulouse last year, you can have a night off shows without feeling like you’ve wasted some of your ticket price.
Having said that, the Open Stages were excellent with a great variety of acts and performers. One of my favourite acts was on the first Open Stage when what appeared to be a super-serious body popping and contact juggling act turned into a tongue-in-cheek banana manipulation act. Despite the comic value of the routine, the manipulation was exquisite! I even heard some people say the first two Open Stages at this year’s EJC were some of the best shows they’d ever seen.
Renegades were also less frequent than at other EJCs, or even BJCs. Inevitably this led to impromptu renegade Renegades growing organically. One appeared in the main hall after some musicians interrupted the DJ playing at the back of the hall. More people kept getting up to do something silly, like playing more than one trumpet at a time, until the revelers demanded to have the DJ back and the Renegade moved to the other side of the hall and rapidly attracted a large audience. Another renegade Renegade appeared outside after some British jugglers started demanding tricks from passers-by. The offer of rum as a prize proved incentive enough and soon a large crowd formed to watch the show. While the “official” Renegades were the usual fun it was great to see Renegades form in in this way.
Another change to the format of this year’s convention was the addition of Masterclasses. These are workshops taught by high profile jugglers, manipulators, spinners and aerialists. Teachers included Viktor Kee, Michael Moschen, Emma Kenna, Ronan, Meast, MCP and many more. The Masterclasses were advertised on the EJC website over the weeks and months leading up to the event. Often at conventions you have to wait until you arrive, and people scribble on the workshop boards, to find out what classes are on. Considering workshops are a major part of the convention for many people, having some well-known teachers advertise their classes in advance is a superb idea.
Of course, the workshop timetable was chocka-block with less high-profile workshops as well. There were also loads of acrobalance and some tumbling workshops in the acro-gym and a plethora of aerial acrobatics workshops in a specially reserved area of the main hall.
The good people of Millstreet couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Many of the shops and businesses along the main street had signs welcoming European jugglers. Those residents I met when doing some shopping, or who popped down to peer into the site, were friendly and interested in what was happening. The parade through the town and games in the town centre are a great way for the convention to give something back to the locals and they seemed to go down very well with the residents. The Irish weather was also very kind to us with just the odd heavy shower. The rest of the time mixed scorching sunshine with some of the biggest white, fluffy clouds.
The two big, ticketed shows, both open to the public, were held on the Friday and second Saturday of the convention. The Legend Stage was first up and had a mouth-wateringly good cast. Opening up were Charlie and Haggis. This pair has not only produced instructional media but has been performing together for 30 years. They presented a street show style act and the quality of the skills and patter was testament to their years on the circuit. The jokes were adapted to the EJC audience and had us chuckling and applauding in equal measure.
Donald Grant, possibly the most influential diabolist of all time (he’s written five books on diabolo!) performed his high-energy diabolo routine and, my gosh, it was tight! As far as I could tell the whole act was executed flawlessly.
Françoise Rochais, one of the world’s best respected female jugglers, also appeared on the Legend Stage. Juggling umbrellas, batons, tennis racquets and more, Françoise’s routine abruptly changes pace near the end as she whips her frilly dress off to reveal a slightly more practical getup! Excellent stuff, as always, from the French juggler.
Freddy Kenton was introduced as the oldest performing juggler in the world. Freddy is in his seventies and his act is a real blast from the past. In gentleman juggler style he proceeded to perform amazing feats of balance with the assistance of his glamourous wife.
Other legends on this stage included Steve Mills, the discoverer of the Mills’ Mess pattern and now also famous for his superman undies and Viktor Kee impressions, and Jochen Schnell who performed a mesmerising ring act.
The two big names on the bill were Michael Moschen and Viktor Kee. Michael Moschen is generally regarded as the father of modern contact juggling but also experimented with s-staffs long before they became Buugeng. He is also an accomplished bounce juggler and he showed us part of his extended act where he explores and plays with rhythm by incorporating tap dance with his bounce juggling. What stood out for me the most though was Michael’s appreciation and love for the EJC; he was very humble and seemed truly grateful he was asked to attend.
Headlining was Viktor Kee, an amazing ball juggler and movement artist who performs with Cirque Du Soleil. He treated us to one of his Cirque acts complete with balls falling from the ceiling. After some fantastic five ball tricks Viktor finished his routine by juggling seven balls, one of which was on fire.
The Legend Stage was a great idea by the EJC organisers and it was a real privilege to see legends from different eras and for different reasons all share the same stage.
The second Saturday of the convention was the climax of the event with the parade, games and Gala Show!
The Gala was hosted by the MC (that’s miserable clown) Matthias Romir. Entering the stage on a cherry picker, dressed like some sort of 16th century goth and wearing a pair of old school roller skates, Matthias’s weird, dark humour really appealed to me. At one point he replaced his head with a balloon and manipulated three clubs blind before threatening to shoot his own balloon head.
There was some controversy in the Gala which I’ll get out of the way. The first Gala show performance (there were two as the capacity wasn’t big enough for the whole convention, plus public) featured Sam Youde. Entering the stage inside a shark onesie, Sam, dressed as the pope, and a Pikachu toy (from Pokémon) emerged from the shark’s stomach and then embarked on a surreal, left field adventure through Sam’s imagination with no juggling props in sight. The weirdness included a bible on a lead, Pikachu being killed and used for fishing bait, Sam being shot and killed by his mother, his soul going up to heaven on a toy helicopter (that didn’t work) and more. We did get some fast-paced and innovative juggling at the end of the act but it was very brief, at least when compared to the madness that preceded it.
Personally, I quite enjoyed the strange tale and humour, however, the religious references and violence was totally inappropriate for an early showing of a public Gala in a Catholic country. Many people got up and left the show before Sam’s act was finished and, so I heard, many of the public were demanding refunds. I imagine Sam’s act was the talk of the town, as well as the convention, in the days that followed. Sam was asked not to take part in the second performance of the Gala.
With that out of the way we can get on with the rest of the show. Opening the Gala was Roxana with a static trapeze and ball manipulation act. I thought the concept was great and perfect for an EJC show as it combined juggling with aerial. The tricks were also impressive but Roxana did tease us by having five balls lurking above the trapeze. It turns out these must have been there in case of drops and not for juggling!
Kyle Johnson, all the way from California and one of the top 40 favourite jugglers, took to the stage next. Kyle showed off his unique style of contact and ball juggling including some smooth rolls from the feet to the back.
The only Irish act in the show was Gail O’Brien. Gail is one of the world’s best, and best-known, hula hoopers. Gail’s act featured some brand new tricks including some impressive hoop balancing sequences. It also reflects how quickly Gail’s skills are still advancing; this new act contained many of the big tricks from her previous acts. A couple of these big moves didn’t go as smoothly as Gail would have like but she told me later that she was much happier with the act in the second show.
We returned after the intermission to see the stage laden with white rings and clubs. This could only mean one thing… Patrik Elmnert was first on. Patrik is synonymous with exciting, modern juggling. Many convention regulars will be familiar with Patrik and his style of juggling and he didn’t disappoint. Amazing balances, superb juggling and inventive ways of picking up props littered the act like the props littered the stage.
Roxana returned to the stage next with an antipodist routine. This act was even better than her first, in my opinion. It seemed more technically demanding, whereas the trapeze act was more physically taxing. Roxana juggled up to five balls using a combination of her hands and feet. The only complaint about this act was that some in the audience couldn’t see due to the low level of the action.
Cyrille Humen was the Gala’s penultimate act. His contact juggling and contemporary dance piece was slow and down tempo. For me, it didn’t feature enough variation in the contact juggling. I am familiar with what Cyrille can do as a juggler and I felt this act didn’t showcase that. As a piece of expressive dance it was effective but as a contact juggling piece I felt it lacked something.
Headlining the Gala was Florent Lestage, an eccentric club and cane juggler from France. Florent juggles and catches his clubs in walking canes with amazing finesse. There’s an air of jovial madness to Florent’s character (or is he just himself on stage…?) as he runs about the stage squealing with delight. There was also the odd acrobatic moment in this routine including a macaco/Valdez landing on the cane instead of the hand. Florent was excellent and probably my favourite act in the show.
Despite the odd controversy and an unfortunate incident that all but closed the secondary hall and forced the traders to move before the event started, the murmurings were that the EJC 2014 was one of the best many people had ever been too.
We’re now all looking forward to the European Juggling Convention 2015, which after being danger of complete cancellation, was confirmed in Millstreet to be happening in Bruneck, Italy.