Ballet And Juggling: A Dance Craze We Hope Is Here To Stay
You may think juggling and ballet have nothing in common, but Sean Gandini may convince you otherwise.
Juggling could be dance, he said: “In it’s simplest form, it’s dancing outside the body.
Owner of the Gandini Juggling company in London, he created a vividly visual project called “4×4: Ephemeral Architectures,” with four ballerinas and four jugglers performing together simultaneously.
“I felt like I sent them on a blind date, juggling and ballet,” Gandini joked. “It was a successful date.”
Ballet and juggling both incorporate mathematics, extreme precision and synchronization through time and space, he said: “We both play with structures in time and space. We’re making things that vanish as soon as you make them. The trace that dancers leave is in their bodies. And jugglers, the trace they leave is out of their bodies.”
Ballet dancer Kate Byrne, who stars in “4×4,” agreed with the similarities in precision, placement and spacial awareness, but she also sees one major difference in performance: Mistakes in juggling aren’t as easily concealable.
“In ballet, if you mess up, it’s often possible to cover it and continue as if nothing happened, but if something goes wrong in juggling, there’s usually a loud bang…or someone will get hurt,” she said.
With 25 years of experience juggling, Gandini was entranced with the opportunity to work with dancers and to look at juggling through the lens of dance.
Photography by Ash
“4×4” was choreographed by Ludovic Ondiviela, a former dancer at London’s Royal Ballet. And both sides of the talent pool had to try the other side: Dancers were required to learn how to juggle — and jugglers took a year’s worth of ballet classes.
Gandini was most impressed at how quickly the dancers caught on to juggling, he said, musing that it was “quite pleasing” to see the ballerinas grasp his art. “I think everybody had hard time but it was a very enjoyable hard time,” he added.
Byrne, however, isn’t switching teams. “My juggling is lethal. And not Bond-girl, cool-lethal. Just the kind where everyone runs for cover,” she said. “It would take me a life-time. I’m still dangerous handling anything airborne.”
Synchronization between the jugglers and dancers wasn’t as difficult as Gandini thought it would be, but keeping aware of the space above was a new concept for the dancers.
“The air is as important a space as the floor,” Byrne said. “It was certainly a challenge, to remain aware of all the planes simultaneously.”
Some dancers found arm movements that coordinated with juggling hard, Gandini said, as well as breaking the fear of being smacked in the head by clubs zig-zagging through people and patterns in complicated counts.
Photography by Ash
“I was afraid at first, when it dawned just how close the clubs come past your head,” Byrne said. “I learned fast that being in the wrong place at the wrong time wasn’t an option.”
Jugglers know it’s quite painful to get hit, but Kate learned the hard way when she was struck.
“It was a case of friendly fire, due to my own misjudgment,” she said. “But actually a club to the head isn’t as painful as feet are after a day in pointe shoes!”
Another major hurdle was counting, as dancers typically count in 8’s while jugglers count in 5’s, Gandini explained.
“We count like dancers, but we count in all kinds of stuff but mostly 5’s,” he said. “That was a bit of rewiring for them, but dancers are very musical. Sometimes, they feel the music.”
As for the jugglers, Gandini said they learned quite a bit about ballet, a process aided by the whole company taking ballet class together before rehearsals, even the jugglers who had never seen ballet.
“They have discipline in common,” he said. “Both jugglers and dancers put immense time and practice in their craft. It’s an endless process with layers of refinement that are never-ending.”
Byrne added: “I can understand why the fantasy of running away with the circus had endured. Even after two years, there are moments on stage when I’m struck by how beautifully it works. Their precision and dexterity truly still astonishes me.”
Photography by Ash
Gandini also believes that both ballet and juggling are unfairly the victims of negative stereotypes. “People think [ballet] is old-fashioned, but it’s a funky living art form, much like juggling,” he said.
But the show, which opened at London’s Royal Opera House before touring the U.K. and internationally, is not meant to compare and contrast ballet, or merely put two seemingly different art forms on the stage together for the sake of it. “4×4: Ephemeral Architectures” is, in Gandini’s words, “a reflection on structures and why some structures appeal to the mind.”
“Beauty is a strange thing in contemporary art,” he said. “It’s a philosophical reflection why some structures or systems in art why are they beautiful.”
But mostly, Gandini explained, it’s a treat for the eyes.
“I watch it a lot, and I still have to choose who to watch,” he said.
View more photos from the performance and find out where to buy tickets here.