May 2014 | Udder Belly, Southbank, London
For over 20 years Gandini Juggling has been experimenting and innovating contemporary circus with a background in juggling, mathematics, rhythmic gymnastics and inspired-by-Pina-Bausch. It’s not just about what they juggle – it’s how they do it, what rhythms and detailed movements they adopt, what games they play and how they test themselves. Smashed! is a series of vignettes of nine performers and loads of apples. And a tea set.
Juggling has proved to be an exceptional device in ensemble training and Smashed! gloriously demonstrates this through concentration, tension, clowning, structures and chaos, alternating dynamic and static moments that are all present and the audience are drawn into endless mathematical patterns and games. I would confidently use Gandini Juggling as an example of Lecoq’s complicité or Meyerhold’s essential rhythm, which he believed was the most important element of theatre and created it from the very beginning with the mise-en-scène. Having argued that complicité can’t come spontaneously (despite many a teacher’s claims to the contrary), there had to be a structure and established rhythm. Skipping was the best example, at least over endless exercises with partners trying to compel one other to do something, with complicité, from nothing – until now. The audience also feel this hyper-awareness and the show is all the more compelling for it. Old-fashioned popular music is used throughout (seemingly to echo the point about Meyerhold) and the cast did very well to continue while a low flying helicopter decided to linger over Southbank covering all the sound for a few minutes (the show was also forced to share the venue with a considerably less professional band elsewhere in the tent.)
The ensemble created short games while quickly establishing rules. Sometimes the men were trying to impress the women, other times performers were trying to outdo each other; it was always clear what the task was and how it failed. There was plenty of politics that often became brutal, sex politics and punishment routines were some of many. One specific game was for Gandini himself to distract the others as they juggled 5 apples in a hilarious and destructive anti-juggling moment, hitting their heads, whacking their genitals or simply batting the apples across the space were some his methods. Another impressive feat was a queue of jugglers that kept three apples in a static position going by stepping in at the right moment.
Weaving arms, carefully choreographed steps and perfect rhythm made this a great show to watch, but it was the savage U-turn that consolidated its brilliance. Finally the crockery is brought out and chaos ensues. Some of it is juggled in the air, some of it laid out precariously, but the rest of it is just brutally thrown around with large clusters flying into the audience. There is a total breakdown with the formalities as well, screaming and mocking at each other while sarcastically commenting on the action before such as a hilariously belittling “look! a FEMALE juggler, la de da!” and “what is this crap, this is Arts Council-funded!” This self-effacing post modern twist violently tears apart the previous work and everything is wrecked. Apples, having far more expression than plain juggling balls are crushed, splattered, torn apart and in a great final episode, juggled and simultaneously eaten as they go. I left the venue feeling extremely anxious and unnerved by the danger and audacity of this show, but it was a visceral and incredible experience. Keep your eye out for this company because they’ll certainly take your preconceptions of juggling and shatter them.
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