The jugglers on stage seemed to epitomize emotion in motion. Sitting still on chairs with apples in their hand, the group then seamlessly and unexpectedly diverted the audience by tossing the fruits into the air. The seven men and two women dazed and delighted their audience by deftly tossing and catching the flurry of apples, as well as constantly moving around the stage.
The display of sheer juggling prowess was one of the vignettes that made up a recent performance of “Smashed” by Britain-based Gandini Juggling. Brought to Jakarta by the British Council, the group performed at the Jakarta Arts Building and the Salihara Cultural Center.
Held as part of the Seventh Triennial Indonesian Art Summit, their act is partly inspired by the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch, as well as Gandini founders Sean Gandini and Kati Yla-Hokkala’s mix of theatrical spectacle and earnest entertainment.
The group didn’t do things by halves in getting its point across, as it featured nine jugglers, 80 apples and four cutlery sets. Gandini, which has performed more than 4,000 shows in more than 40 countries since its founding in 1991, used the sights and sounds of post World War II Britain, including the era’s black-and-white photographs, period dress and music as the backdrop for its act to evoke the period’s romanticism.
The performers also enhanced the effect through their juggling prowess and stage act, which was reminiscent of mime, slapstick and even hip hop, as well as classic Charlie Chaplin silent movies like the “The Tramp.”
But there is method to Gandini’s madness. The troupe set out to convey tensions and strains in personal relations, whether it be misunderstandings between men and women, peer pressure, or the hardships one has to go through to get to one’s goals. The notion of apples and tea saucers managed to convey images of gentility and Englishness, but ultimately proved to be stifling chains that were brought down in an earth-shattering manner.
The apples suit Gandini’s purpose because of their shapes and more.
“The apples are a metaphor perhaps of the forbidden fruits, or maybe Newton’s apple, which is in line with the thought-provoking aspects of the performance. While it depends on which element comes first in your mind, what is certain is that the skills and spectacle of juggling resonates with people around the world,” said Ignaki Sastre, a Spanish member of Gandini’s cast, who come from all over Europe.
“It’s also a good way to gauge differences about people around the world. Some audiences tend to be more amused, while others are more likely to be touched. From my observation, Indonesian spectators are one of the most upbeat ones that I ever played to.”
Fellow juggler Benjamin Richter agreed.
“Juggling is a universal language which can profoundly touch various emotions, a fact that is reflected by its ability to last for thousands of years,” said Richter, who has been a member of Gandini for more than 20 years. “For instance, if we threw an object in a technical way, it will come out dryly no matter how well we threw it. But if we threw that object in sadness or anger, it will resonate more.
“However, people haven’t touched on the emotional side of juggling until about the last two decades, because they haven’t looked beyond techniques for a long time,” he added.
“It could move more in space or express geometric concepts, but it doesn’t necessarily express emotion. That goal might seem a bit more remote, as most juggling acts, particularly in circuses, opt for theatricality and spectacle.”
But Richter maintained that Gandini would still choose the road less taken.
“Gandini will stay with its vision of looking for something in between juggling and dancing. Both are similar because of their dynamic moves, though juggling emphasizes positioning, while dancing is all about movement,” he said.
Aside from their gigs in Jakarta, Gandini also enthralled audiences in Yogyakarta as part of the Art Festival tour.
But whether you prefer the sleight-of-hand prowess of juggling to the dynamic movements of contemporary dance, you can be sure that the spectacle will be as profound as it is unforgettable.