Gandini Juggling: Smashed

Date: March 18, 2015
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Juggling, according to the program notes, is essentially a mastery over the “fundamental force of gravity”. Passing patterns, velocities and angles define not only relationships between two juggling hands but between two or more jugglers. The movements of pieces traveling mid-air, as well as the movements of the jugglers’ bodies and limbs, provide plenty of kinetic vocabulary to complete a masterpiece of choreographed drama.

Between its traditional role in a circus act in ancient Greece and Rome, and its status as a black-tie type of high art in the 18th and 19th centuries, juggling has a long and varied history. Juggling patterns have also been studied extensively in mathematical terms. Yet, as an entertainment device, it has nearly always been considered a sidekick to a wider circus act or an ambient backdrop in a movie’s crowd scene (see Casablanca, Hook etc.) With Gandini, juggling is vaulted to the forefront of theater: the act is well choreographed, while protagonists display distinct emotions and projecting living characters. Kati Ylä-Hokkala, Gandini’s artistic director and star performer, communicates with a sweet smile and gazing eyes, even as she busily juggles four to five items while crisscrossing the stage on strapped heels. Francesca Mari nurses a cool, if not also pesky, figurine who can throw as mean a smile at you as five (or six!) items rapidly in mid-air. Malte Steinmetz plays the part of a German-speaking joker who acts (and even looks the part of!) Cosmo Kramer, while Tedros Girmaye shines as the hilarious Donkey to Gandini’s collective Shrek. Girmaye not only juggles but performs incredible acrobatic acts too: in fact, before joining Gandini he has done time with Cirque du Soleil. Tensions ebb and flow during a performance, but tends to build whenever jugglers begin to throw items into mid-air and at each other in a perfectly choreographed web of cacophony: the utter concentration involved belies yet perfectly contrasts a lethargic, taped soundtrack of a Bach sarabande. In another, when items dance cooperatively in a three-item cascade just as Jack Little’s I’ve Always Wanted to Dance in Berlin play in the background, an air of relaxed serenity permeates. This communicative power is a culmination of more than twenty years of Gandini’s experimentation using juggling as a medium of communication. Whoever believes juggling is merely an act involving quick hands with neither dramatic quality nor impact should most certainly rethink that position.

If robots can juggle perfectly, then Smashed seeks to highlight that its juggling is performed by real, breathing human beings. Whether deliberate or by accident, items do occasionally, or eventually, get smashed (hence the act’s title). What makes juggling such a dramatic art form (at the hands of the Gandini folks) is not only the perfection resulting from the kinetic relationships between limbs and flying items, but the prospect (and hence the inevitable suspense) that an item may eventually face the natural laws of gravity. With Smashed, the Gandini eleven shows us why choreographed juggling is not only an electrifying but a legitimate form of theater.

Gandini Juggling: Smashed

Gandini Juggling: Smashed in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Hong Kong Arts Festival.