LIFE: A love letter to Merce Cunningham from Gandini Juggling

Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London
January 12, 2022

I have no hand-eye co-ordination and I can’t count. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the brilliance of Gandini Juggling so much. But what if Merce had choreographed juggling, as Sean Gandini mused. Could something be created that has roots in Cunningham’s world, and that retains its essence, while also reaching out? In short, yes!

Sean Gandini opens LIFE by explaining and demonstrating the basics of rhythm and counting in juggling, cleverly using one coloured ball amongst white balls to make it easier to see the beat in action. His fabulous company then go on to juggle Indian clubs and rings, interspersed with pas de chat, arabesques and floor work.

LIFE by Gandini Juggling
Photo Dolly Brown

And as if the juggling wasn’t skilful enough, fiendish ports de bras and footwork are built up ball by ball as it were. Getting the heads right in Swan Lake’s ‘Cygnets’ would be a doddle after mastering that.

The performers (who include one of Cunningham’s dancers, Jennifer Goggans, here making her juggling debut, although you wouldn’t know it) manage to both conceal and reveal the technique behind the art, and are not shy of exhibiting emotions. Some of the work with the clubs is positively angry and aggressive, at one point leaving one club stranded on a brick ledge at the back of the stage.

Breathing and counting are exhibited and juggling even occurs to a background of monologues in various languages, the company being from several countries. This is one of the very, very few occasions where silence, or rather, an absence of music, works. The rhythmic thud of balls being caught – and sometimes dropped – adds to the mesmerising effect of objects seemingly pausing in mid-air and acceding to the will of the jugglers.

Even on the Baylis’ small stage and in a simple setting, Guy Hoare’s lighting design is used to full effect, especially where it highlights the Day-Glo colours of the clubs.

The teamwork, co-operation, collaboration and obvious positive reinforcement that are engendered in this company’s ethics are a refreshing delight in an arts world where conflict and power imbalances too often underlie the insecurities of a profession that has suffered hugely in the last couple of years.

I can’t help thinking Merce would have approved.

Welcome back Gandini. The hour flew by – as did the juggled objects.

LIFE by Gandini Juggling, part of the London International Mime Festival, is at Sadler’s Wells until January 15, 2022.