The Place, London
January 20, 2023
Since its founding in 1992 by Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä- Hokkala, Gandini Juggling has not only celebrated the art of juggling itself, but constantly explored what it might be. The company has over 30 productions with its series of works combining the art form with dance a particular delight. 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures joined it with ballet, Sigma with bharatnatyam, Life: A Love Letter to Merce Cunningham with the work of unique American modern dance choreographer, and Smashed and Smashed 2 with that of Pina Bausch.
In The Games We Play, one of three co-commissioned works in this year’s London International Mime Festival, the couple invite the audience into their art. With the affable and easy-going Gandini doing pretty much all the talking, it’s a delightful, engaging, easy-going hour in which Gandini and Ylä- Hokkala get through a lot.
The show is fun and often playful, but it’s also very informative. In the opening section, the pair explain and demonstrate how juggling is about maths and patterns rather than simply keeping multiple balls or other objects in the air, as obviously important as that is. As they do so, Gandini neatly relates colour combinations and sequences to various artists and composers.
Juggling lives on the borderline between the cerebral and the physical, he reckons, with juggling patterns sometimes a darker reflection of our deeper soul.
There’s history, humour and, naturally, some super juggling from the duo including a rhythmic set done sitting at a table, and a remarkable sequence where their arms cross over and under their partners. The speed and dexterity is remarkable.
Effortlessly interwoven into it all are stories. Gandini muses on juggling animals, notably Lola the juggling pig. He tells of juggling in medieval times, and of Antonio Tremani and Jenny Jaeger. The latter, around in 1920s America, is still considered one of the best jugglers of all time but of whom only one 48-second film is known to survive. You can find it on YouTube.
It being Gandini, dance naturally meets juggling several times, including one extended duet that has the couple moving pleasingly and almost gently romantically around the stage.
There are darker moments. When they come, they make you sit up. One horrific story towards the end about a juggler and his jailers will leave you shocked at the cold barbarity of the latter.
But then Gandini quickly lightens the mood by running through a few imagined and discarded possibilities for ending the show that include goats and a levitating choirboy in white. Yes, really!
Part-lecture, part-chat to the audience, part-show, The Games We Play does raise questions about juggling and art, and what art is or can be. In that way, it’s not unlike Gandini Juggling’s many productions. The couple’s love for their art shines bright in what is an often joyous, always engaging exploration. But above all, it’s a celebration, and a beautifully judged one at that.
As Sean Gandini noted at the beginning of the show, Sadly, the 2023 London International Mime Festival will be the last in its present form. With its first edition presented in 1977, thus beating Dance Umbrella to the starting line by a year, it is the city’s longest established international theatre season. A celebration of wordless performance, it has long been noted for its wide-ranging programming, covering avant-garde dance, contemporary circus, puppetry, spooky physical theatre and much more.
The word is that the festival is likely to continue in some way, but it has not sought future Arts Council England funding. It seems likely this will be the final year of the multi-event, multi-venue celebration that it has become. That is unfortunate to say the least because, as the number of this year’s shows that are sold out testifies, it continues to strike a chord with audiences as it lights up the cold, dark month that is January. Its loss will be keenly felt.
The London International Mime Festival continues to February 5, 2023. Visit mimelondon.com for details of programmes, venues and tickets.